What Matters when Turning Utopias into Material

Philip Hector, Mikko Jalas


With an increasing number of open laboratories for cultural and technical experimentation in place, questions arise regarding how and with what effects they come about, what they mean to those who partake and how they organize themselves in order to satisfy those involved. Recognizing the way that these spaces reach of alternative technologies and alternative ways of being we conceptualize them as materialized utopias, which are fragile socio-material arrangements. Rather than articulating grand utopian or ecotopian alternative societies, we look at materialized utopias as the gradual tweaking, probing and fixing of things. We elaborate on this with the study of “Test Site” a campus-based open space for experimentation in Helsinki designing with matters such as soap, compost or wood. We show that the thriving of this space is dependent on partly coincidental alignment with the institutional context and purposeful misunderstandings. However, its hybrid character being open to different interpretations does not only help to spur momentum but by the same token also leads to tensions internally as well as externally. Materialized utopias are then bound to be compromised, but in the best case scenario, turn unproductive anxieties into productive care taking of the socio-material surroundings. As the site is in the making, materials and events function as checkpoints and create legitimacy.

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