Utopia or Oblivion : Pippa Sanderson. 14 November - 1 December 2007

… one cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which had not first thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet.’.
Frederic Jamieson, Archaeologies of the future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, p. xii

‘the past sure is tense…”
Captain Beefheart

The bubble as image and drawing process -blowing ink and bubble mix onto walls and paper - emerged from a period of studio-based research, touching on: incubators, the architectural bubble of the geodesic dome, and haunted psychological spaces. A series of watercolours, in which ghostlike figures hover in a watery other-world, also surfaced. The bubble drawings - imprints of a past action - and the ‘tie-dyed’ quality of the ghosts, evoke the lineage of alternative thinkers that settled New Zealand in the late Victorian period, like my great-grandparents, spiritualists based in the far north. In characterising colonial New Zealand as a utopian vision, Robert Ellwood makes the connections between immigration, Victorian Romanticism and fascination with alternative spirituality, and social reform (ideals that informed the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi). The utopian bubble resurfaced in the counter-culture of the 1960s and ‘70s, exemplified by publications like The Whole Earth Catalogue and Mushroom. Jamieson argues that in our current late-capitalist society there is a renewed need for the imaginative radical otherness Utopian visions offer, to counter the universal belief in free-market globalization.

The title of this show, ‘Utopia or oblivion’ was taken from a Buckminster Fuller book. Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome, was an icon to the hippy counter-culture in the 1960s and 1970s with his utopian visions, including a plan to solve the global housing crisis by building floating dome cities. ’Utopia or oblivion’ was a warning for the future. The burst bubble of New Zealand’s colonial utopianism continues to leave traces on our everyday lives.The activity of blowing bubbles to make drawings, the necessary acceptance of failure and change, of accidents and uncontrollable elements, evoke the optimism and fragility of alternative, utopian thought. The traces of the burst-bubble drawing process resemble explosions on the one hand, and serene marbled water surfaces on the other. The drawings are a record of flow, or a trace of breath, or nodules of intensities, infused with the restless spirit of assemblages and utopian visions.

[1] ‘Island of the Dawn: The Story of Alternative Spirituality in New Zealand’ (1993: University of Hawaii Press)