Utopia – Art that opens our minds

By | Art & Design
Riot on Printed Ceramic tile on a Ford Car Bonnet, Carrie Reichardt , Courtesy of The Unit London

“Utopia” is the second official exhibition of the newly opened gallery “The Unit” London in Chiswick. The show, which opened last week and will be on stage until the end of the year, is realized in collaboration with one of the biggest homeless charities, Shelter. To raise awareness about the issue of homelessness, the exhibition addresses ironically and metaphorically the topic of Utopia.

This is a beautiful Image by James Thurgood,
Courtesy of The Unit London

The concept of Utopia has been at the centre of philosophical debate and social theory in modern times. Since the Renaissance several models of ideal communities and ideal cities (as the privileged sites of modern society) have been developed.

Ironically though, the exhibition refers to Utopia through a more than pre-modern narrative. Rather than inspired by Thomas More’s novel the curator has recreated in the gallery space the Eden’s garden as the primordial model of ideal society. Fake grass on the floor and ivy dripping from the ceiling lighting tubes evoke the biblical scenario. What strikes more though, is the box standing in front of the window entrance with a couple of real snakes symbolizing the biblical evil serpent.

In line with this ironic approach the show presents a collection of works that criticize contemporary society offering some interesting interpretations. Most of the works of the show present a strong critical and ironic character towards political, social and religious topics such as the one signed by Mangus Gjoen, again alluding at the Eden garden, titled “Break glass for a new beginning (Eden).”

Many of the artists’ works here curated belong to the tradition of pop-art of the 60’s which used ads and mass produced objects to criticize the society of consumption. Among the artists who, language-wise, seem to owe more to such tradition are Ben Allen, Pure Evil, Copyright, Carousel Lights, Agnetha Sjögren.

La cage et la force by Sandra Chevrier

La cage et la force by Sandra Chevrier

Some of them instead definitely come from illustration and urban art. It is the case of Jonny Burt, Joe Kennedy, George Morton-Clark, Sandra Chevrier, Mason Storm. Closer to more traditional techniques of painting is the contribution of artists Rico Blanco, Jake Wood-Evans, Snik, Ed Haslam.

A couple of artists definitely stand out of the group for technique and originality; Carrie Reichardt and Agnetha Sjögren. The former’s work, between craft and activism, is a highly politicized work realized with a mosaic technique and Victorian-shaped frames. Working with broken printed ceramic tiles the artists composes pictures animated by symbolic images and text often related to national identity — like the queen’s crown and the “mad in England” label in “Pretty in pink” – or to anarchism (the work titled “Have hope” quotes “global revolution is coming”).

The Swedish designer Agnetha Sjögren instead has literally made up the design accessory of the 21st Century. She designs and makes dog-shaped sculptures realized with different materials, textures and colors. These dogs, here also presented in a print picture, represent literally a sort of diary for the artists who have realized many of them to recall past experiences such as travelling and childhood memories. Additionally, she has also realized some to celebrate events like the London Olympic Games in 2012. More than just luxury gadgets these objects enter the gallery space as the alter ego of famous artist Jeff Koons’ inflatable creatures. Nevertheless the place where we imagine them mostly is a domestic interior; in fact even if fake, Agnetha’s dogs demands someone to belong to.

Tintin Captain my Captain by Agnetha Sjögren, Courtesy of The Unit London

Tintin Captain my Captain by Agnetha Sjögren, Courtesy of The Unit London

Utopia abolishes myths of old and new times; unveils the irreverent reality behind the glass, to use Mangus Gjoen’s metaphor, and it reveals the authentic utopia of today. It attacks what is sold to us as the canon of beauty and happiness as the works “This is a beautiful image” by James Thurgood and the neon sign “I love you” by Carousel Lights make clear.

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How can exhibitions like Utopia function as a tool to raise awareness on social issues? 

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