Back to the Future: Utopia 1.0 revisited through Spring 2021 post-vaccinated, mask-fogged lenses this Shavuot
By, 2021 LABA Fellow Annie Berman
Our current Zeitgeist is filled with dreams of renewal, reawakening, return – a return to a better world. Is that even possible? Are human beings capable of creating a world anew, or can we only work towards reforming, healing. Are there limits to human imagination?
I write this as a current LABA Fellow, a filmmaker and artist whose film Utopia 1.0: Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism in 3D! poses these very same questions, and perhaps offers us some lessons.
Utopia 1.0: Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism in 3D! 2015. USA. Directed by Annie Berman. 20 min.
As the sun begins to set on the once-bustling online pseudo- reality Second Life, filmmaker Annie Berman sends her avatar in to investigate the decline of this utopian world.
In Utopia 1.0: Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism in 3D!, I travel back to the future, to the largely abandoned virtual 3D world of Second Life, in search of utopia. It is an absurd idea, as the title suggests. There is no such thing as post-neo-futurist-capitalism just as there is no such thing as utopia. Literally defined from Ancient Greek utopia means “no place.” Thomas More coined the term to name his invented island – a place (a “no place”) that represented a perfect society. Yet, despite its existence, or non-existence, our very notion of progress depends on our ability to imagine utopia, to imagine a better world. Or in the worlds of Lewis mumford,
Utopia exists in the same way north and south exist . . .
We never reach the points of the compass, and so, no doubt we shall ever live in Utopia, but without the magnetic needle, we should never be able to travel intelligently at all.
-Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias
The film begins with this quote, with the beginnings of an expedition to another island, the virtual island of Second Life. Second Life serves as the setting through which to navigate ideas of capitalism, utopia, and the embedded ideologies of technology. I choose not to identify this space as Second Life so that it may stand in for past, present, and/or future spaces, real or imagined. As such, I believe that it can speak more broadly to a history of the human impulse for utopia, what Lewis Mumford calls the “will-to-utopia.” My aim was to provide a tissue of hints and impressions and to raise more questions than answers.
Film Still, Utopia 1.0
That was 2015.
I’m curious, how will this film read to us today, in spring of 2021, through our post-vaccinated, mask-fogged lenses? It’s as though we are all time travelers now. We have seen the future and know we must do better, but how?
I hope you’ll join me for a very special screening of the film this Sunday May 16th, at Dawn: A Cosmic Reunion, an all-night cultural arts festival celebrating the Jewish holiday Shavuot that is organized around these very questions. I’m thrilled that artist, educator and founding faculty of The School of Apocalypse Tal Beery will be joining me in conversation following the screening.
We haven’t yet met, but I recently devoured Beery’s paper Living and Working in Other Worlds which reminded me that even these seemingly open, idealist, utopian-seeking quests are already limited by our myopic view of a world, when in reality we are speaking of a world of worlds. Embedded in this notion of imagining another world is the assumption that there exists a single system to begin with, a Western monolith, which, in turn, reminds me that it is “we” the “nonessentials” who speak of returning, reemerging, reimagining.
Instead, Beery argues that “we should seek a plurality of systems, innumerable heterotopias, worlds within worlds.” He offers us the following provocation:
Let’s create many worlds. If one world consists of a set of institutions through which folks meet basic needs, as well as find coherent meaning and connection, then plenty of worlds already exist today. Indigenous Nations, for example, have sustained worlds over many generations. These worlds exist amid and in between and in spite of. Each must be protected and nurtured.
Beery continues to offer us a vision of how — an investment in critical thinkers, in artists, backed by public institutional support. There’s so much more to be said here, and I hope you’ll read his essay, and join us at the Tikkun Sunday, May 16th for the screening, discussion, and much much more.
Reexamining this film now, in the context of this year’s LABA Fellowship theme, CHOSE-N, I think now less about the line between our physical and virtual worlds, a line that has grown increasingly blurred, and more about the line between the physical and metaphysical worlds. I’m curious about the place of revelation which LABA Visiting Scholar/Rabbi/Chazzan Jessica Kate Meyer, spoke of in a recent study session in which I scribbled the following in my notebook,
“the axis mundis or axis of the world that connects heaven and earth, becomes the center of the world . . . we don’t know where these places are.”
I think of how this is unconsciously what I was likely seeking when I created Utopia 1.0, what I am still seeking . . . a place of revelation, something to connect heaven and earth. Maybe I’ve lost faith in human capacity to build anew. Maybe there’s something else I’m seeking.
A burning bush?
Film Still, Utopia 1.0
Is this laziness?
Is it faith?
Or, is it hope?