"Art can cease being a report about sensations and become a direct organization of more advanced sensations. The point is to produce ourselves rather than things that enslave us."
- Guy Debord, from "Theses on Cultural Revolution"
Art has always served a precarious role when it comes to a radical and transformative politics. Too often, even the most apparently revolutionary art ends up recuperated as market or museum-piece. MIT Press' elegant 2009 collection Utopias assembles an historically broad (though almost exclusively western) swath of manifestoes, interventions and proscriptions toward utopian and revolutionary transformation. Editor Richard Noble's introduction situates the power of these texts in their lurch toward a revolutionary horizon (that which is yet to come). And while the collection is certainly an excellent introduction to many essential and revelatory broadsides and critiques, Noble can't help but find himself stuck in this ultimately unsatisfactory impasse, resulting in toothless assertions like "[the] utopian impulse is implicit in all art-making, at least in so far as one thinks that art addresses itself to the basic project of making the world better."
Nonetheless, the book itself is a formidable archive (ahem) of revolutionary texts (with the occasional negative dystopic warning - like snippets of Orwell's 1984). Kicking off with an excerpt from Thomas More's Utopia and closing with a 2008 interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Adam Phillips, Utopias provides all kinds of known and unknown pleasures. However, the collection - like Noble's introduction - reproduces the same cul-de-sac the bulk of the excerpts rail against. At the end of the day, Utopias is another attractive museum catalog, producing weak whispers and disavowed reminders of something far more scandalous, unattractive and untameable.
As supplement and tonic, I'll close with a sentence from an excellent piece on Occupy and art from 2012, co-written by Jaleh Mansoor, Daniel Marcus and Daniel Spaulding:
"Art’s usefulness in these times is a matter less of its prefiguring a coming order, or even negating the present one, than of its openness to the materiality of our social existence and the means of providing for it."
Of course, much of how and when this works is up to us.