Experimenta Utopia Now

Experimenta Utopia Now is the most interactive exhibition I’ve visited this year. From plants that respond to touch with sound (Akousmaflore, by Scenocosme), to a ‘choose-your-own adventure’ type of animation where the viewer’s face appears within the cut-out bird character inside (You Were In My Dream, by Melbourne–based artists Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine), this is an exhibition that entertains as it takes us out of our accepted realms of reality.

Some works involve an immediate degree of physical participation, while others consist of moving images designed to draw the viewer in and provoke thought.

Of particular interest to me was the film,’Whose Utopia‘ set in the OSRAM Foshan light bulb factory in Guangdong, China. It shows the rote lives of the workers, focusing on three employees who who live their employment time very differently to the others. Their heads are filled with higher aspirations. One is immersed in dreams of being a ballet dancer, another of being a mime and the third of being a musician.

It’s ironic that the light-bulb is a symbol of new ideas and these light-bulb factory workers are stuck in a production line job where monotony does not allow creativity in their work – but in the freedom of their minds they can indulge in their desired artistic reality while they perform repetitious tasks alongside their oblivious co-workers.

As I reflect on the silent film, I wonder how many housewives move through daily routine while mentally existing on other, more creative planes. Often the real person is not seen – only the role they perform, and that goes mostly unnoticed unless they stuff up. Many occupations provide few, if any, unsought opportunities to be noticed.

Maybe that explains the popularity of the exhibit “TouchMe“, by Dutch interaction designers, David Kousemaker and Tim Olden. The viewer places the palm of their hand on a circle of light on the right hand side of a six foot high frosted glass screen, initiating a scan of anything that is touching or in close proximity. The best results are obtained by standing as close as you can to the wall.

The scanner records items in close proximity to the screen.

The scanned image appears and is displayed until the next person approaches or until a predetermined time passes with no interaction. They have become a permanent part of the image series that is shown in growing rotation at this art gallery and other locations in the exhibition’s travel circuit.

The recorded image is displayed on the glass wall for all to see.

Then the next participant steps forward to place their hand on the circle of light to secure their place in the documented community.

How this relates to my Arts practice
  • Once again my understanding of the definition of art has been expanded.
  • Many works in Experimenta Utopia Now are reminiscent of the exhibits I found most inviting in the old Melbourne Museum of my childhood in the 1960s.
  • From my observation of this exhibition, the patrons’ engagement appears to correlate fairly directly with the degree of hands-on participation invited.
  • I am now rethinking some potential projects and considering how to add an element of performance art or community involvement.



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