‘If Otherwise – Pop Up Projects from Utopia’ emerged out of the murky and chaotic depths of a graduate Anthropology seminar called ‘Utopia’ at the New School for Social Research. The seminar hoped to plunge into utopias, as histories and futures, with little attention to the requisite units on dystopia that seem to be prescribed in most syllabi as supposed antidotes to the chronic idealism and ideologies that are said to always and inevitably sink utopian projects. The idea for this seminar was, rather, to question notions (and temporalities) of failure and explore possibilities and alternatives beyond the now common quip that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. Many have imagined and some have lived or currently live in economic and social arrangements that are not subsumed by the logic of capitalism or the neo-liberal state or the strictures of a strictly humanist ethos.

A strong interdisciplinary commitment was built into the seminar and, aside from the usual solitary research paper, a second requirement was to carry out a collaborative project that would assume a different form – a research project that would end up as performance, design, art, game… What would come of this sort of collaboration in an anthropology class structured in some ways in the conventional format, ie. with lots of weekly readings?

These projects – i.e. what has survived the class – became a pop-up art show named and designed and installed collectively in the home room generously donated by GIDEST. The projects became a sort of collective poetics of utopianism that seemed to tread a fine line between possibility and precarity, enhancement and control, without falling to the disease of promise-threat/utopia-dystopia endemic to this domain.

The collective projects can be accessed here; the exhibit is archived as photos here; and the seminar readings (modified) are available here as resource and reference.

Abou Farman