Utopia Constructed: 2016 Friends Lecture Series

The Sackler Research Forum is delighted to announce the Spring 2016 Friends Lecture series. Entitled Utopia: Constructed, the series will be part of a rich programme of public events inspired by the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia that will be taking place at Somerset House during 2016. Scholars from across The Courtauld have contributed to the planning of the series, and we are keen to explore the transformative power of architecture in the past, present, and future. It is envisioned as an opportunity to explore the interplay between the visual arts, social contexts, and intellectual communities, and to examine the intersections of media, aesthetics and politics with architecture and the urban. Utopia: Constructed will investigate the multivalent modes of architectural research and artistic practice, and how the legacy of Utopia has been negotiated through space and ideas.


Utopian places and spaces: the urban ideal in 20th century India

19th January 2016 

Professor Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director – The Courtauld Institute of Art

This first lecture in the series Utopia Constructed explores the relationship between ideal concepts and the actual practice of architecture and city planning in the context of India. It touches on concepts of the ideal city in classical textual sources and  the creation of historic cities such as the 18th century city of Jaipur, but looks in more detail at three post-independence examples: Chandigarh, the capital of the Indian state of Punjab, designed by Le Corbusier;  Bhubaneswar, the somewhat less well known capital of Odisha, designed by Otto Königsberger;  and the township of Auroville near Pondicherry, a Utopian community which was inspired by the teaching of Indian nationalist, philosopher, yogiguru, and poet, Sri Aurobindo Ghose and his close spiritual collaborator, Mirra Richard, who is better known as The Mother. It explores the ways in which ideal and utopian concepts of urban planning and societal creation have played out in the lived reality, drawing on field research  undertaken in the 1970s and ongoing observations during many subsequent visits to India.

Deborah Swallow became the Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld Institute of Art in 2004, after a curatorial career at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Heterotopologies: Frontier as Symbolic Form

9th February 2016

Professor Reinhold Martin – Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University

Speaking with a group of architects in 1967, Michel Foucault distinguished heterotopias, actually existing ‘other’ or ‘different’ spaces, from ‘fundamentally and essentially unreal’ utopias. This talk will revisit that figure—heterotopia—as a boundary problem, of which the modern research university is an important instance. Mapping the limits of the university as both a utopian ideal and a historical reality reveals a ‘heterotopology’ that extends the critique of power initiated by Foucault—including that critique’s utopian dimensions, which are more relevant than ever today. To do so, the talk will sketch an architectural genealogy of the American university and through it, of ‘America’ itself, in the process of becoming hegemonic. We will pay special attention to the ‘frontier’ and its horizons, which emerged as a ‘symbolic form’ reorganizing the topologies of knowledge at the very moment that art history discovered a related function for perspective and its vanishing points.

Power and Performance: the Bruges Mantelpiece to Charles V

16th February 2016

Professor Ethan Matt Kavaler – Professor, Department of Art, and Director, Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, University of Toronto

How were political art works able to mediate between rival interests, to enhance the power and presence of rulers while buttressing the competing rights and privileges of their subjects? And in what ways did sculpture address these problems that painting could not?  The carved mantelpiece dedicated to Charles V in Bruges is a revealing example that derives its agency partly from rituals designed to reconcile these conflicting demands. The mantelpiece, with its life-size statues encroaching on communal space, could induce a series of performances by beholders, structured by memories of previous social and political practices.  Such monuments might best be explored through notions of performativity, of collective acts both executed and retraced that regulated power relationships.  Their spatial, plastic, and material properties are all essential to its efficacy in shaping beliefs and framing public interaction.

Reflections on Utopia and Post-Studio Art Practice

15th March 2016 

Alex Hartley – Artist

“The lecture will use examples of my own work to discuss utopian ideas within current post-studio art practice, including Nowhereisland, my ten-year artwork that culminated in a new travelling nation built from an Arctic island that I discovered in 2004. Nowhereisland gathered more than 23,000 citizens during its journey from the High Arctic to the south west coast of the UK. Other works covered will include Vigil for the 2014 Folkestone Triennial and Dropper, which was installed at various venues including Occupy, London in 2012. Both installations involved full time occupation of the artworks by the artist and others. Other artists’ projects, that inspire or overlap with my practice, will be considered (including Francis Alys, Andrea Zittel, and Olafur Eliasson) alongside utopian architectural concepts and their relationship to sculptural production.”