Utopia in a Snowglobe
Taking Brecht's watchword 'erase the traces' as one starting-point, and Little Nemo's visit to a glass cave in Slumberland in 1905 as another, this paper traces a relationship between utopia, transience and transparency, as figured in the materials of glass and ice. The manifestos of Bruno Taut and Paul Scheerbart, which plea for glass architecture and alpine architecture respectively, are related to the tradition of ice palaces, the first of which is said to have been built on the River Neva in 1739 to accommodate a honeymooning couple. In this paper, utopia is found in a snowglobe.
The concept of Utopia as 'no place' keeps possibility open by liberating thought from convention. As an artist, I am stifled by the dichotomy of Theory and Practice, with its implicit separation of mind and body, and its binary division between the ideal and the actual. I propose we work instead with a three-part model similar to Aristotle's Theoria, Poiesis and Praxis, which have truth, production, and action as their respective purpose or aim. I would like Praxis to be understood in the spirit offered by Karl Marx, and developed by Jürgen Habermas: using all the faculties in conscious, ethically grounded and transformative (inter)action. As examples of efforts to achieve such transformation, I shall show some projects by Cornford & Cross, including Utopia (1999), which explored generosity both as a form of control and of resistance; Why Read the Classics? (2005), a play of dazzling illusion and blind idealism; Words are not Enough (2027); a confrontation between denial and 'the possibility of hope'; and Trance Nation (2027), which stages a reciprocal gaze between rationalism and mysticism. My impulse to make art springs from a lively sense of dissatisfaction at the gap between the ideal and actual. For me, praxis begins with an attempt to close that gap, follows with a recognition that the attempt is doomed, and hopefully, leads to a way of coming to terms with it. Transformations in pursuit of an artistic ideal seem to demand a change not only in social situations, but also in myself.