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Class 8: Heterotopia

March 29, 2017

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Week eight began with some technical issues with voice activation again and rather than get too distracted by this, the group very quickly developed an involved and engaged critical discussion on the subject of Heterotopia. In many ways, the absence of the speaking voice seemed to enable a lively at times contentious discussion entirely through text in the chat box. This discussion was prompted by a prior reading of French Philosopher Michael Foucault’s 1967 essay: Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias. The purpose of this text in the course was to introduce an alternative concept to that of Utopia as a way to think about the environment of Second Life and to some extent to think about the environment of Sherkin Island. Opposed to the idea of Utopia as a fictional space, Foucault describes a Heterotopia as a ‘space between’ which breaks from the Utopia/Dystopia dialectic.  By positing the real spaces of difference and plurality that exist in the world Foucault is drawing attention to the fact that spatial organisation and planning can never completely totalise our world, and that no matter how much cities and rural communities are developed there will always be spaces of difference and plurality that transgress the homogeneous categorization of space and its use.  These spaces often take on multiple roles and functions rather than singular ones, there is often a different experience of time within these spaces and they often presuppose an ambivalent system of opening/closing, entry/ exit. Examples of heterotopic spaces are: Graveyards, cemeteries, brothels, gardens, prisons, asylums museums, festivals, and ships. Expanding upon the latter example, Foucault writes:

if we think, after all, that the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today), but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates. 

In many ways, this passage captures some of the uniqueness of experience that the students have in the BAVA on Sherkin island. That their working day is marked at the beginning and the end of the day by a boat ride illustrates the imaginative context in which study and art making are taking place.  It also captures the in betweenness of experience in second life, between real and unreal, imagination and materialization (it was a quote that was used to describe second life in the film screened at the North Shore Discovery on Sherkin Island, titled: Utopia 1.0 Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism). Such tensions were drawn out in the classroom discussion and it was clear at the end of the session that there was a lot more room for challenging set ideas about this concept.  In the next session, the group will be developing ideas for their exhibition in second life and going through the assessment brief.

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