Individual Utopias Now and Then

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.”
–Oscar Wilde

Art and culture have always been, directly or indirectly a reflection of social processes, while the artistic avant-garde of the 20th century acted as the ideological framework for revolutionary movements. The arts used the position of medium and represented society’s possibilities for achieving a utopian system. In many respects, those utopian ideas in the 20th century represented the alternative to capitalism as a societal and economic system” (Alternative Economies, Alternative Societies There Must Be an Alternative,, 2005)

Set by the framework of the project with its title INDIVIDUAL UTOPIAS NOW AND THEN – Discontinuity of generation dialogue or what do we have in common?, project context and its background are related to the geo-political, historical, social and cultural characteristics of the Western Balkans region, in particular to Albania, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The title of the project reflects the processual and open character of the project. It thrives to promote and present avant-garde cultural, media and artistic practices, which have become or are becoming a milestone for future generations, by choosing the protagonists of the artistic scenes and cultural workers out of official and state cultural frames. The project tries to show the context in which post-communist societies are built, regardless of the differences left by that system even 20 years after its fall. Focused on research and production, we want to point out the subjects and examples containing multiple layers and thus help ourselves define the situation before (during communism) and the situation after (after the fall of the Berlin Wall).

If we look at the transition and post war experience in the region in order to illustrate the related subject we see that culture in regional context is mainly interpreted as something closely related to the ethnicity and cultural fragmentation that results from that situation and creates great barrier for development and building a tolerant society that respects differences. Number of prejudices, stereotypes and xenophobic incidents are results of that blinded perspective that has been portrayed as a part of traditional values. Because of all that young generations do not feel as parts of their societies and the generation of their parents is lost between past and present political and social systems.

How much is utopia individual or generational matter? Is it utopia to speak of utopian concepts as an alternative?

If we look 50 years back in time and stay within the frame set for the project by its title, the issue of utopia, the perception of utopia on collective level has changed – from believing that utopias are possible through social and cultural change by nurturing the idea of revolution, to the chaotic clash of societies and systems and the ultimate acceptance that the change is not possible and a total loss of social values. Danilo Kiš, a famous Yugoslavian writer once suggested that one should not debate pro relativity of all values, for hierarchy of values does exist. With this project we would like to re-introduce the notion of Utopia as a corrective to society and potential intellectual norm that can reactivate the lost hierarchy of social values. The project will examine and re-actualise the idea of Utopia through intelligent editorial shaping and positive theoretical vision produced and set over the course of the project.

By asking the question “what do we have in common?” and looking for the gaps[3] that have created discontinuity in generational dialogue, the project will search for “Individual Utopias” in order to create a puzzle-like image of social utopias of different generations. The idea of the project is to collect and elaborate different symbolic aspects of generational differentiations and misunderstandings rooted in the social codex.

Our attitude towards the past is the key for solution/non-solution of numerous regional problems, particularly in the countries of former Yugoslavia that – almost throughout the whole 20th century – lived in a common state and learned a common history. Albanian involvement in the project frame seams only logical due to the communistic traditions and perception of Albania by the Yugoslav peoples as “far away so close” country. Historically, Albania and the region of former Yugoslavia can relate to their experiences with cult of personality under communism (Tito, Enver Hoxha) in similar way which is also related to the notion of utopia.

The process of overcoming past cannot be truly commenced unless history ceases to be identified with collective memory, national epic poems, sentimental tales of heroes, myths of eternal heroism and sacrifice. Through art and culture one may follow the genesis of historical consciousness of people or societies. Art and culture may be indicators, but also generators of manipulation and instrumentalisation of human consciousness. They can also be corrective – active participants in the process of individualisation of thought and the formation of a critical, polemical, antagonised position towards the dominant forms of consciousness. It is this individual artistic attitude that we recognise as the corrective of society, the starting point of this project.

Search and creation of the project’s content is set by its title INDIVIDUAL UTOPIAS NOW and THEN – Discontinuity of Generation Dialogue or What Do We Have in Common? To be more precise – with INDIVIDUAL UTOPIAS NOW and THEN we refer to utopia either as a personal creation of an individual, or utopistic conceptions of different ideas that can create path towards facing the past interpreted in collective frame of post-socialism societies and their transitional present. How do those past codes of memory link to the today’s context? What are the links that are missing? And how did they get lost?  How similar were utopias of the generations who lived during the socialist era, and how similar they are today between the generations of transition and globalisation in Western Balkans?

Asja Hafner