The Dialectics of Utopian and Dystopian Impulses in Contemporary Culture, in Particular, in Finnish Contemporary Art

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Erkki SEVANEN, University of Eastern Finland, Finland
Along the triumph of the neoliberalist politics and the collapse of the socialist world system, art seems to have increasingly lost the critical and utopian perspective that had been characteristic of it since the early 19th century or even since the 18th century's Enlightenment culture. A conclusion like this has, for example, come up in the first edition of Luc Boltanski and Éve Chiapello's Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme (1999) which stated that in the 1980s and 1990s the critique on capitalism was heading for a deadlock and also changing into a marginal phenomenon in societies.

Later we have, like Boltanski and Chiapello, witnessed the rise of the critical social movements that do not accept the contemporary world order dominated by the neoliberalist politics. To them belong, among others, the leftist World Social Forum and different, usually fundamentalist or neo-nationalist, globalization-critical networks that have elaborated on alternatives to the current world order. Thus, our era is not void of Utopias and utopian impulses.

The situation in contemporary art is, however, slightly different. As Don DeLillo's and Michel Houellebecq's novels, Pussy Riot's political-artistic activism and Ai Weiwei's works indicate, contemporary art may be critical of neoliberal capitalism and authoritarian regimes, but it does not usually offer clear-cut alternatives to them. This is also true of Finnish contemporary art of which this presentation offers an appraisal. Questions concerning contemporary capitalism, gender inequality and ecological themes occur rather regularly in it. Although Finnish community art and design in its different manifestations produce solutions to practical social problems, at a general level Finnish contemporary art does not usually contain explicit alternatives to the current societal order. Rather it shows what sorts of social and ecological risks or pathologies the current societal order includes. In this sense, a dystopian mood is common in it.