Artist Position – Alex Verhaest: Thinking like strangers – collective imagination of Eutopia

In March 2020, the world came to a screeching halt. We were forced to pause, look around us and reconsider: where exactly were we heading? What were we looking for?

A flurry of articles appeared about aspirational new world views. And depending on the type of Facebook friends you had, the alternatives presented were either dire or hopeful. Some wanted to go back to the Arcadian cliché of the suburbia of the fifties, while others pined for the now closed hedonist hub of the city. “Like” or “don’t like”, there was only one certainty; Change was coming, for better or worse.

How to think about Utopia? How to think about Dystopia? Where do our ideas about this come from? How had people thought about Utopia before this apparent apocalypse? Are we ever right?

In Eutopia Unbound, Sofie Verraest describes how the idea of “a good place” and the description of it within famous, infamous or even less read books, ensures that stereotypical patterns of the imagination are activated. Those patterns circulate in a culture and are perpetuated through movies and art and plays and music that move us and annoy us and thus those patterns sneakily nestle themselves deeply into our collective subconscious. The things we keep and collect in a culture are the means by which we shape our past, future and present, for better or for worse. These artefacts shape the framework by which we define our likes and dislikes around a more complex reality. They shape the lens through which we see the state of the world. The talk will investigate how Sofie Verraest’s Doctoral thesis Eutopia Unbound formed the basis for my video game ad hominem.