HETEROTOPIA PROVOCATION (Stamford Works, London N16, 9 – 11 June, curated by Alyssa Ueno, Attilia Fattori and Lauren Lapidge) was a mix of collaborative art works, installations, live music, and performances as well as lectures, discussions and book groups held in Elena Colman and Daniel Nield’s eclectically constructed The Library. It was also a remarkable demonstration of the artistic and intellectual richness that can emerge from even relatively short periods of intensive, creative working and thinking together across disciplines.
Given that this project was organized around a specific philosophical concept (coined in the late 1960’s by Michel Foucault, a still-much-idolized and much referenced thinker), it was apt that a centrally positioned work was Christopher Collier and Mihaela Brebenel’s installation Philosophy. Prêt-à-Porter. This was a display of ‘designer’ t-shirts suspended from the ceiling and modelled, in photographs. Each garment was embellished with the name or initials of a philosopher currently in vogue but designed to emulate the logo of a well known fashion house. Thus, simply and powerfully, using the rhetorics of fashion and merchandising, the artists highlighted what they saw to be a danger “widespread … within art and critical discourse of selectively adopting keywords and ‘soundbite’ concepts from theory and wearing them as a badge of intellectual gravitas or cultural relevance.”
Heterotopia Provocation itself both acknowledged and, I think, evaded these dangers, presenting a compilation of differently navigated commitments either to question Foucault’s concept on its own terms, or to think it through and flesh it out with respect to various more contemporary circumstances or questions. So, in Alternative Present (Reconsidering Modernization), Luna Lee and Yoon Kei Lee asked what other, non-Eurocentric models of modernity might have become available if, contrary to historical fact, ‘western’ and Korean cultures had been allowed “to integrate more naturally”. Constellation, by Alyssa Ueno and Sylwia Dobkowska, presented a series of small, self-enclosed worlds-in-boxes that opened up only to those who were willing to deform themselves, physically and mentally, bending, twisting, and otherwise reconfiguring our bodies and our minds to accommodate them. 7/7 Heterotopia (David Rose and Ian Parkin) presented, side-by-side, narratives that could have circulated in the media after the 2005 London bombings, but didn’t. And TV Commons by Justin Pickard, Stacey Pitsillides and Stephen Fortune, imagined the new affiliations, ventures, and challenges that might emerge from Britain’s planned digital switchover in 2012.
The overall outcome was a space that was as generous and permissive as it was critically and artistically engaged. One in which polished works, like Philosophy. Prêt-à-Porter, and Christopher Collier and Nicola Rae’s DeriveLab, a compilation of powerful audio and screen-based works by practitioners from around the world, could co-exist with other evocative, but still relatively incomplete, unresolved, or in-process pieces — like TV Commons — without the former jeopardizing the interest and impact of the latter. Or vice versa. Not surprisingly, collaborations birthed for and by Heterotopia Provocation are already overflowing into new projects and exhibitions.