I had been to the Royal Academy of Arts recently with my friend Neha (Gupta-Chatterjee) to see the ongoing Paper City: Urban Utopias exhibition. My present readings of The Faber book of Utopias (edited by John Carey), Utopias Deferred: Writings from Utopie by Jean Baudrillard and Ruth Eaton's Ideal Cities had greatly increased my expectations from people who generally like to imagine and represent ideal conditions for human existence.
But quite contrary to my expectations and the impression that the larger than life and quite explicit name the exhibition labels itself with, it turned out to be an extremely ordinary exhibition tucked somewhere in the corridor between the ladies toilet and the restaurant. The drawings were done by a range of people from different backgrounds, from the C-grade student with a D-grade imagination, a house wife to Peter Cook(who according to me had successfully created one of the worst images in his career) and James Wines. The drawing by James Wines was quite beautiful, but the rest seemed personal graffiti oblivious of any historical or theoretical context of utopias or architecture or technology.
But the highlight of the exhibition was exactly that! Anyone and everyone had quite quickly contributed to this exercise of imagining their individual utopias, someone got them printed on A4 stacks of paper pads and hung them within an exhibition space for people to admire and tear off a copy of the ones they liked and take it home. I am sure its not an Avante Garde idea and is generously used in departmental stores but to have it in the Royal Academy with Pre-Raphaelite artist, John William Waterhouse RA (1849-1917) in the neighbouring hall is quite impressive. I guess one could even measure the popularity of each art work within the exhibition based on the number of copies. It could be a market survey for utopia!
This exercise somehow reminded me of some photographs I had seen on facebook of students from my Architectural school, painting a wall that was worked out like an event. Unaware of the impact an image can have within the public domain and the privilege of being in a position to design a more meaningful drawing in such a space (i don't mean painting a Monet but it could definitely had been a Banksy), most seemed to take pleasure in painting mediocre images of guitarists, flowers, cartoons and other things that seemed to fail in front of the pan splatters which did a better job of occupying the wall. But I guess one is allowed to do such things as a student and it is after all only a wall and maybe I am over reacting.
But any ways back to the topic, the exhibition also has a small competition as an extension which invites people to contribute their ideas for Paper Cities and will be judged by architect Peter Cook, illustrator Sara Fenelli, Blueprint editor Vicky Richardson and the RA’s Architecture Programme Curator Kate Goodwin.
(will be posting some images from the exhibition soon...)