Whitehot Magazine

June 2011, After 4000 years of Sci Fi DYSTOPIA

DYSTOPIA, installation view
Photographer: F. Deval Copyright Mairie de Bordeaux

After 4000 years of Sci Fi
CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain
Entrepôt Lainé  7 rue Ferrère
F-33000 Bordeaux, France
14 May 2011 through 28 August 2011


“Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache.... Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.”
George Orwell

“Life without utopia is suffocating, for the multitude at least: threatened otherwise with petrifaction, the world must have a new madness.”
E.M. Cioran

The future isn’t coming – it’s here now.  It’s not bringing an apocalypse but a trap between a perpetual impending catastrophe and a weary pang of hope for salvation.  It is life unrelenting.

At least, that is how I felt after seeing, DYSTOPIA, an exhibition of 46 international established and emerging artists at the CAPC, Bordeaux’s museum of contemporary art.  The curatorial premise is a unique one; CAPC’s projects director, Alexis Vaillant and American art theoretician and science-fiction writer, Mark von Schlegell collaborate to create a contemporary vision of dystopia. Vaillant invited von Schlegell to write a screenplay that would govern the exhibition preparation. The result is New Dystopia, the forthcoming novel-cum-exhibition catalogue by von Schlegell.
Both men proposed artworks for the exhibition, but von Schlegell had final choice of all works.  It was Vaillant’s job to curate them.
“The exhibition, consisting of sculptures, performance, paintings, films and publications, should be understood as a fiction.  Dystopia is [a] philosophical fable whose elements are works of art.  Organized according to futurist speculations, this exhibition proposes dystopia not as an end, but as a beginning,” says von Schlegell.  DYSTOPIA postulates a view of compressed time; all time is this time.  It puts forth haunted and abstracted views of a speculative future which we recognize.  We live in the apocalypse we dread.  

The ambient colour of this show is red, produced by red plastic film screening all the windows.  The effect created palpable anxiety, suggesting a vision of perpetual dusk and a fear of the coming dark.  Information was hard to find in the dim light on black walls, but I understood information wasn’t meant to be easy.  Information doesn’t come organized for visitors to dystopia.  “We stand at the full noon of our New Dystopia’s day.  Though the total darkness is still a century’s coming, the sort of light by means of which we perceive today can nevertheless, from this moment on, be said to be bleeding away.”  This passage from New Dystopia refers to an untitled photograph from a series of street scenes by John Miller (1994-2011).  The image, both written and photographic, is of a large group of individuals milling about in front of a fast food restaurant in the long shadows created by the light of a worn out sun.  Imminence is cold.

DYSTOPIA, installation view
Photographer: F. Deval Copyright Mairie de Bordeaux

Vaillant brings meaning to the phrase ‘the art of curating’.  In the nave of CAPC, the sepulchral main room of the exhibition, he situated works along what seemed to be an invisible grid, much like the urban planning of American cities.  I’ve experienced the numbing effect of this pervasive grid.  Ease in navigation perhaps, but no freedom to wander, discover and be surprised.  This was the feeling in the nave, works were immediately visible and in determined relation.  Movement was allowed within the invisible grid but there was no respite for a wandering flight of fancy.

It was within these contextual relationships that meaning impacted with full force.  A full-length view down any path in Vaillant’s grid gave a tactile sense of time compression.  There was displacement of time periods and a sense of the bizarre conceptual reality found in daily life, such as the mixed media piece by Isa Genzkan, Nofretete (2010).  This work configures a replica of the famous bust of Nefertiti, which resides in Berlin’s Neues Museum, in a brightly painted turquoise headdress, wearing what could be Oleg Cassini designer eyewear from the seventies.  I could imagine this bust as a display prop in any small-town optometrist shop.

Perpendicular to the end of the nave lays a corridor.  Within this corridor Vaillant created seven cells of smaller narratives within Dystopia, carrying the time compression further into spatial compression.  Each scenario felt dislocating and created the sense of being captured like a fly under glass roaming round and round, buzzing up and down until all views of entrapment became one; entrapment is a key word in comprehending dystopia.

However, the works of art seemed secondary to the exhibition theme.  These very relationships which created meaning took importance away from individual artworks. The art became components rather than features.  They were like props in a scene deliberately scripted to present a very specific concept.  Nearly all the work was conceptual in nature but this was not a show about conceptual art, it was a show which employed conceptual art as an illustrative device to map a fiction.  It was evident that artworks were chosen for their fit with the theme, as opposed to there being a theme identified to enlighten the works of art.

That criticism is, in fact, not a criticism, Vaillant and von Schlegell have produced an exhibition which is exhilarating in its potential to place art alongside and in proportion with other modes of cultural production.  Too much time and effort has been spent in creating the artistic ego and intellectually setting art apart for a privileged elite.  Dystopia takes a broader view of cultural production, giving equal status to all media involved.  The events running concurrently with Dystopia reinforce this point.  There will be films by Ben Rivers and several others, a concert by Lee Renaldo co-founder of Sonic Youth, lectures and of course publications, namely New Dystopia.

An art which comes to life when placed in a context, which many of these pieces do, is an art which communicates.  This communication is where we will find respite from the relentlessness of life and where our beginning beyond dystopia lies.


DYSTOPIA, installation view
Photographer: F. Deval Copyright Mairie de Bordeaux

DYSTOPIA, installation view
Photographer: F. Deval Copyright Mairie de Bordeaux



Jane Boyer

Jane Boyer is an artist, curator, critic and committed peripatetic. Her formative years, which she believes are still in progress, were spent bouncing back and forth between California and the Southern US and most points in between. In 2005 she became an Irish citizen. She now lives in France, overlooking the Gironde Estuary and travels to London frequently for her practice.

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