The Country House and the Coketown. Lewis Mumford’s Modern Age Utopias

Charles Fourrier, The Phalanstere

This is Chapter ten from the seminal The Story of Utopias of the American historian, sociologist and philosopher Lewis Mumford.

How the Country House and Coketown became the utopias of the Modern Age; and how they made the world over in their image.

Now that we have ransacked the literature of ideal commonwealths for examples of the utopian vision and the utopian method, there remains another class of utopias which has still to be reckoned with, in order to make our tally complete.
All the utopias that we have dealt with so far have been filtered through an individual mind, and whereas, like any other piece of literature, they grew out of a certain age and tradition of thought, it is dangerous to overrate their importance either as mirrors of the existing order or as projectors of a new order. While again and again the dream of a utopian in one age has become the reality of the next, as O’Shaughnessy sings in his famous verses, the exact connection between the two can only be guessed at, and rarely, I suppose, can it be traced. It would be a little foolish to attempt to prove that the inventor of the modern incubator was a student of Sir Thomas More.
Up to the present the idola which have exercised the most considerable influence upon the actual life of the community are such as have been partly expressed in hundred works and never perhaps fully expressed in one. In order to distinguish these idola from those that have occupied us till now, we should perhaps call them collective utopias or social myths. There is a considerable literature that relates to these myths in French, one of the best known works being M. George Sorel’s Reflections on Violence; and in practice it is sometimes rather hard to tell where the Utopia leaves off and the social myth begins.
The history of mankind’s social myths has still in the main to be written. There is a partial attempt at this over a limited period in Mr. Henry Osborn Taylor’s The Mediæval Mind; but this is only a beginning, and other ages are almost untouched. The type of myth that concerns us here is not the pure action myth which M. Sorel has analyzed; we are rather interested in those myths which are, as it were, the ideal content of the existing order of things, myths which, by being consciously formulated and worked out in thought, tend to perpetuate and perfect that order. This type of social myth approaches very closely to the classic utopia, and we could divide it, similarly, into myths of escape and myths of reconstruction. Thus the myth of political freedom, for example, as formulated by the writers of the American revolution, frequently serves as an excellent refuge for disturbed consciences when the Department of Justice or the Immigration Bureau has been a little too assiduous in its harassment of political agitators.

Thus the myth of political freedom, for example, as formulated by the writers of the American revolution, frequently serves as an excellent refuge for disturbed consciences when the Department of Justice or the Immigration Bureau has been a little too assiduous in its harassment of political agitators (1887, a group of men loiter in an alley known as ‘Bandit’s Roost’ off Mulberry Street, New York)

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The Utopia Disaster

The wreck of the Utopia in Gibraltar harbour.

The title of a file in the Gibraltar State Archive about the sinking of the ship ‘Utopia’ in 1891 in the Bay before the city with more than 800 Italian migrants on board led to this contribution which – by means of the example of Gibraltar – considers the iridescent nature of the Mediterranean Sea between its roles as bridge and border. Historically the Mediterranean Sea constitutes an ecumenical space of active exchange of cultures and people. Gibraltar whose population in its composition is the outcome of multiple migratory flows bears an eloquent witness to this.
But since the Mediterranean Sea has turned to a kind of an EU-Bufferzone and thousands of people lost their lives in the attempt to cross it, hope and despair lie nowhere in the Mediterranean area so close together as at the Strait of Gibraltar. Here, where already during the battle against the Moors, antique mythology was drawn on as part of political propaganda, the non plus ultra of the Pillars of Hercules is again in force today. Even for the naming of the operations at sea against illegal immigrants, antique myths are used. For over one thousand years European realms derived their legitimacy from the succession of the Roman Empire. The contribution of Asia and North Africa to the spiritual heritage of Antiquity was ignored in order to purify the genealogical tree from undesirable ancestors. Thus an idealised image of ancient Greeks had a major share in the formation of German national consciousness in differentiation to France. Also during the genesis of the German Reich in the 19th century the identity of the construct was strengthened through ideological distinction outwardly, a further parallel between German history and that of the European unification process. The latter builds on the construction of an idea of Europe and its outward demarcation for which discursive action is essential.
The European Commission nurtures here a vocabulary of threat which appears to be chosen in reference to the centurylong defensive struggle of Rome at the Rhine and Danube rivers. When speaking of ‘growing migration pressure on the EU’s external borders’, ‘migration of peoples’, ‘onslaught’ and ‘invasion’ myths are evoked that generate – in the form of collective errors – social cohesion and often enough in history had disastrous effects. Therefore the linguistic representation of immigration should be brought from the area of myth down to the ground of facts and migration be seen as part of a process of internationalisation of the economy and work.

Bernd Bräunlich is a lecturer for German as a foreign language. After having resided and worked in Athens for several years, he is currently teaching at the University of Cologne. He has studied German Literature and Linguistics as well as Classical Philology at the Goethe University Frankfurt and the Gutenberg University Mainz where he worked as a scientific assistant in Latin literature. During the past few years he has been collaborating in several art projects together with Marianna Christofides. His interest lies in the fields of Cultural Studies and German History, especially in the reception of ancient Greece and its impact on the formation of German identity.

Marianna Christofides (b.1980, Nicosia, Cyprus) studied Visual and Media Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts, Athens and the Slade School of Fine Art, London. She completed her Postgraduate Degree in Media Arts and Film at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. In 2011 she co-represented Cyprus at the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia curated by Yiannis Toumazis. In 2011 she received the Jean-Claude Reynal Scholarship, France and in 2010 the Friedrich-Vordemberge Grant for Visual Arts by the City of Cologne. In 2009, Christofides represented Cyprus in the Biennial of Young Artists from Europe where she won the Resartis-Worldwide-Network-of-Artist-Residencies Award. In the same year she also received the 1st prize for Best Documentary in the 5th Cyprus Short Film and Documentary Festival, for her film Pathways in The Dust. A Topography out of Fragments. Since 2000 she has received numerous scholarships and prizes, among which by the A.S. Onassis Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, the Michelis and the Eurobank Foundation and the National-Scholarship-Foundations of Greece and Cyprus. Marianna Christofides presents her work in international exhibitions and film festivals.

The Shock of Modernity

Guli Silberstein IL/UK and Tahl Kaminer IL/UK

Modernity is a term which refers to ideas, ideals, ideologies, a worldview, a way of life, a politics, political-economy, class system, social relations and much more – in other words, to all the ingredients of life itself. Modernity was a powerful force which transformed European society over a period of two centuries and more, bringing about conflict, strife, and the demise of the feudal society which preceded it. Modernity produced ‘modern society’, and continues to transform contemporary society as well. Yet currently, the forces modernity unleashes and the radical transformation it brings about are most visible not in the West, but outside Europe and North America, in areas in which the transformation from traditional to modern society has not yet been completed.

Much of contemporary strife, political instability and volatility in the global south (and much of what was until recently called the Third World) is related to the entry of modernity and the damage it has done to traditional societies. The rapid changes, the ungrounding of a reality which had seemed fixed, stable, and transcendental, the uncertainty of subjects regarding their place in this transforming world – all these create anxieties, contradictions, and unexpected reactions. In this sense, even many of the political or social movements which have been formed to fight modernity or its excesses on behalf of an idealized past, including such disparate organizations such as Al Qaida or the Moral Majority, are themselves already ‘compromised’ by modernity – modernity has ‘penetrated’ their thoughts and actions in a manner which prevents positing them as true representatives of traditional society, but rather as an ‘alternative’ modernity at most, one construed on memories of a lost past.

The project presented here, an installation comprising a short experimental film, an assemblage of objects, photographs and texts, forms part of a larger project which carries the same title, The Shock of Modernity. The project is interested in the manner in which modernity is bringing about upheaval outside the West, as its spread is exacerbated by new technologies, globalization, and the search of capitalism for new markets and resources. Understanding this phenomenon is key to comprehending the causes of many contemporary conflicts – conflicts which are typically misconstrued as clashes between ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’, between ‘reason’ and ‘barbarism’, between ‘the West’ and its nemesis, or between ‘democracy’ and ‘autocracy’. The project will show how the specific context and its relation to the cultural and geographical origins of modernity – the West – modifies the specific outcomes of the clash between modernity and tradition and determines the specifics of the reception of modernity tin diverse societies. Thus, while the forces operating globally are similar, their reception differs from context to context, as do the ‘hybrid’ outcomes of the mixture of modernity and tradition.

Tahl Kaminer is Lecturer in Architectural Design at the University of Edinburgh. His research studies the relation of architecture to society. Tahl completed his PhD in 2008 at TU Delft, received his MSc Architecture Theory and History from the Bartlett in 2003, and an architectural diploma (B. Arch) from the Technion in 1998. Tahl co-founded the nonprofit 66 East, which ran group exhibitions, presentations, lectures and screenings at a space in East Amsterdam, 2004-7. Tahl is a co-founder of the academic journal Footprint, and edited two of its issues. Routledge recently published his doctoral dissertation as Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation: The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture. He has also co-edited the volumes Houses in Transformation (NAi, 2008), Urban Asymmetries (010, 2011) and Critical Tools (Lettre Voilee, 2012).

Guli Silberstein is an Israeli-born (1969), London-based video artist and video editor. He received a BA in Film & TV from Tel-Aviv University in 1997 and a MA in Media Studies, specializing in video production, from New School University, NYC, USA in 2000. Since then, he has been working with appropriation to produce video art works dealing with situations of war & terror, cognitive processes and electronic media. His work has been extensively presented in festivals, museums and galleries including: Transmediale Berlin, Kassel Film and Video Festival, EMAF Osnabrueck Germany, ‘Human Frames’ exhibition & DVD Lowave Paris, Museum on the Seam Jerusalem and the National Centre of Contemporary Art Moscow.

Narcissus and Echo

Claude Cahun – Que Me Veux-Tu?, 1928


[339] Tiresias’ fame of prophecy was spread through all the cities of Aonia, for his unerring answers unto all who listened to his words. And first of those that harkened to his fateful prophecies, a lovely Nymph, named Liriope, came with her dear son, who then fifteen, might seem a man or boy—he who was born to her upon the green merge of Cephissus’ stream—that mighty River-God whom she declared the father of her boy. – she questioned him. Imploring him to tell her if her son, unequalled for his beauty, whom she called Narcissus, might attain a ripe old age. To which the blind seer answered in these words, “If he but fail to recognize himself, a long life he may have, beneath the sun,”—so, frivolous the prophet’s words appeared; and yet the event, the manner of his death, the strange delusion of his frenzied love, confirmed it. Three times five years so were passed. Another five-years, and the lad might seem a young man or a boy. And many a youth, and many a damsel sought to gain his love; but such his mood and spirit and his pride, none gained his favour.

[359] Once a noisy Nymph, (who never held her tongue when others spoke, who never spoke till others had begun) mocking Echo, spied him as he drove, in his delusive nets, some timid stags.—For Echo was a Nymph, in olden time,—and, more than vapid sound,—possessed a form: and she was then deprived the use of speech, except to babble and repeat the words, once spoken, over and over. Juno confused her silly tongue, because she often held that glorious goddess with her endless tales, till many a hapless Nymph, from Jove’s embrace, had made escape adown a mountain. But for this, the goddess might have caught them. Thus the glorious Juno, when she knew her guile; “Your tongue, so freely wagged at my expense, shall be of little use; your endless voice, much shorter than your tongue.” At once the Nymph was stricken as the goddess had decreed;—and, ever since, she only mocks the sounds of others’ voices, or, perchance, returns their final words.

[370] One day, when she observed Narcissus wandering in the pathless woods, she loved him and she followed him, with soft and stealthy tread.—The more she followed him the hotter did she burn, as when the flame flares upward from the sulphur on the torch. Oh, how she longed to make her passion known! To plead in soft entreaty! to implore his love! But now, till others have begun, a mute of Nature she must be. She cannot choose but wait the moment when his voice may give to her an answer. Presently the youth, by chance divided from his trusted friends, cries loudly, “Who is here?” and Echo, “Here!” Replies. Amazed, he casts his eyes around, and calls with louder voice, “Come here!” “Come here!” She calls the youth who calls.—He turns to see who calls him and, beholding naught exclaims, “Avoid me not!” “Avoid me not!” returns. He tries again, again, and is deceived by this alternate voice, and calls aloud; “Oh let us come together!” Continue reading


© Jean-Pierre Hébert, Jeremy Sarchet, Ioannis Zannos

Iannis Zannos and Jean – Pierre Hebert collaborate in the Narcissus project

“He spoke, and returned madly to the same reflection, and his tears stirred the water, and the image became obscured in the rippling pool. As he saw it vanishing, he cried out ‘ Where do you fly to? Stay, cruel one, do not abandon one who loves you! I am allowed to gaze at what I cannot touch, and so provide food for my miserable passion!” (Ovid, Metamorphoses Bk III:474-510).

These, as told by Ovid, are the last despairing words of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image reflected on water and was transformed into a Daffodil flower. Echo, the nymph who loved him, could only woo him by repeating his own words, disappeared into the woods, while all that remained was her voice as the sound that bounces back from the hills.
The installation Narcissus is based on the graceful movement of a tensegrity structure, made of rods mutually supporting each other in suspension through interconnecting strings. The installation uses the movement of the tower as reflected on water to create a soundscape of swallows flying around the tower. The tensegrity is a very light but resilient structure, and can be moved easily by the wind or by touching it. It can be likened to a bending flower, but also to a tower circled by swallows, as Narcissus was circled by Echo. At the same time, the visitors circle the tower, and their movements and sounds are merged in the soundscape by recording and playback of fragments of the immediate environment of the installation.
The motivation for the piece was to find a way to use natural elements such as wind and water directly in a digital piece. The idea of Narcissus was a natural consequence of the installation’s configuration and behavior. The swallow sounds from extensive recordings made during the summer months from the last floor of an apartment building in Corfu town during 2006 to 2011. Thousands of swallows nest in Corfu town during the summer. The relatively small number of cars, the narrow streets and numerous old buildings with tiled roofs present ideal conditions for the summer breeding period of these migratory birds. The number of swallows has dwindled in large cities.
The piece invites the visitors to reflect on the fragility of the environment. It seeks to evoke multiple associations between forms and objects, that dissolve the boundaries between urban and natural, technological and poetical. Continue reading

Buses. Simulacres of destiny and war.



Υiannis Christidis  has studied Cultural Technology and Communication at the University of the Aegean and has an MSc in Sound Design from the University of Edinburgh. He has designed sound and music for audiovisual products, web applications, radio productions and theatrical activities. He is a PhD candidate at CUT and his research focuses on the relationship between sound and image, soundscape studies, sound culture, noise and their effects and applications through new technologies and the internet.

Link provided by Andri Kosti, Marinos Raimondou, Marios Filippou, Giannis Hatjigiannis (Άντρη Κωστή, Μαρίνος Ραϊμόνδου, Μάριος Φιλίππου, Γιάννης Χατζηγιάννης)

Let me take you down, cause I’m going to strawberry crisis forever

Antonis Danos, Yiannis Christidis, Yiannos Economou, Nicos Synnos and Yannis Yapanis collaborate in the project

Strawberry fields …: Global economic crisis, simulacra, maps, and simulated borderlines

Another morning on the way to the office. I finally manage to park, alongside the fenced courtyard of a church. A young man – “looks like” a gypsy from the “north” – is selling small baskets of strawberries, cheaply. “Do you want some?” – I decline (too many things on my mind). We are walking in the same direction. “Where are they from?”, I ask. – “From [the village of] Derhynia”, he replies. Obviously, they have come from up “north” (hence the low price)! Derhynia is just the crossing point. – “I’ll take a basket”…

Evening news – one station after another… An annoyingly boring repetition of images of (euro) coins dropping off the mint’s machinery, and (euro) banknotes being (automatically) counted… It’s the financial crisis daily “update” – money is “short”, yet it overflows off the psychotically and fetishistically looped,  close-up images of currency…

“Strawberry fields for ever – Nothing is real / Nothing to get hung about…”

A global (i.e. Western) financial crisis. Accumulation of virtual wealth – the bubble has burst! Accumulation of virtual goods/art/culture. – Damien Hirst’s diamond scull (“For the love of God”, indeed!), sold at 50 million pounds, sold to [a “consortium” that included] himself. Now, he’s at the Tate – a retrospective! Is he at the MoMA, yet?

The nouveau riche “mediterraneanism” of Cypriot, mass produced villas and “luxury apartments” – to be sold to British and Russians, and to ourselves…

Hirst’s “scull”, his dot paintings / the Cypriot “med” villas: mere mass products in the industrial production mode, or contemporary code products – Baudrillard’s simulacra? The strawberries from the “north”, from the “pseudo-state’s” strawberry fields, are they real? Did I ever buy them? Was the young man “real”?

Both he and the strawberries crossed over via the “buffer zone” (the “dead zone” or, more cheerfully, the “green line”).

Buffer zone sounds: people, cars, footsteps, voices, church bells, the imam from the minaret. This is no roadblock, no dividing line. It is a transitory space – a non-space? a hybrid space? – a becoming space? Perhaps, the only ‘real’ space because of its becoming, its constant flux, its fluidity. Is a ‘fixed’ space, by default, a simulation? Are all -scapes simulacra? What of maps?

Mapping as a code-generated reproduction. The absence of an “origin”. A map – a hyper-reality? Are roadblocks, borders, and divisions of all kinds, ‘mere’ simulacra? No “origins”, just “codes”…

More to come

Çağlar Çetin Μοdern

Fanning Action No 1, Lanfranco Aceti, exploitative action, 2008 (media: Michaela Varzari, curator; Alex Grigoras, photographer; Ciprian Croitorul, model and visual artists).

Çağlar Çetin collaborates with Lanfranco Aceti in the project Considerations on Reactions and A Small Picture: Fine Art and Research Methodologies in Collaborative Artistic and Curatorial Projects

If Reactions as an artwork is embodied physically in the blood – in a genetic and physical interpretation of the trauma as a biologically inheritable scar that shapes human behaviors [3], therefore physically placing the communities as focal point of both aesthetic and artistic practice, A Small Picture engages with the remnants, the disappearance and re-appearance, embodying once again, in the physically small, but microbiologically even smaller, the reality of such vast discourses.