Utopian Horizons, grounding the energies of the commons
Rodrigo Ghattas-Perez, Verdensrommet
In the conscious awakening of a post-pandemic reality where global protest movements, climate awareness and environmental sit-downs, false narratives of austerity, and an art field crumbling are dominant, we ask what it takes to build a positive, creative, and realist utopia.
This is the main issue that has transversed Rodrigo Ghattas’ thinking in the past months working from Lima, Peru, and projecting a parallel timeline that may find fertile ground in the Northern Hemisphere, in Norway—a free-thought exercise that does not want to show that other ways of living are possible but, wishes to create real possibilities for different collectivities to exist. This is not just a simulacrum of liberty through imaginative self-expression but a real effort to show that utopia is not a far-fetched scheme, but rather a way of reshaping our future which must be community-rooted.
What would it take for a ‘post-industrial’ town like Norway’s Rjukan to become a safe and energetic haven for a sustainable artistic, social, economic, and ecological community by 2033? And, what can we as artists do to inspire the institutions we work with, the state, private companies, and the public to take that direction within their own contexts? In other words, how can we encourage behavioral change and new sensitivities in everything we do?
In early 2022, when arts funding was as uncertain as it is today, Margrethe K. Brekke, artist and co-organizer of The Rjukan SolarPunk Academy (RSA), and Rodrigo Ghattas-Pérez, artist and co-initiator of Verdensrommet (VR) - a mutual support network for non-EU/EEA artists, felt the need to create both a local and international platform for open dialogue about the future of the art field and democracy in Norway for immigrant artists and for other non-art and minority groups in the country and beyond. In the context of Rjukan as a counter-intuitive product of industrial hubris and ground to test different layers of time, imaginaries of interdependence, and inclusive sustainability. A post-industrial utopia for open democracy and art is possible, especially one that upsets the status-quo.
Part of what makes utopias so engaging, at least on paper, is that they presume to share ideas that will ground our human experience into a reality matching a true sense of well-being, in a social setting and in the world. In comparison, most political projects feel like constructed machines, lean and airtight with beginnings, middles, but no end game - no real impact on changing business-as-usual mentalities and real busters of neoliberal overpower. No wonder socio-political projects, as a whole, seem a bit decadent in their pseudo-procrastinatory pleasure.
However, we do have an end game here and it is to find meaningful and enduring ways to relate with each other, and our environment in order to build a holistic energy transition - new methodologies - for living in communities of well-being. The people of Rjukan will soon encounter different personalized postcards that will serve as a make-a-wish moment for all to engage in the making of ‘the’ future. That unique and creative version that each one of us has somewhere in our minds and hearts about the new force of life we wish to manifest together now.
Rodrigo Ghattas-Pérez (b.1989. Lima, Peru) is a Peruvian-Palestinian artist, systems buster and 'restivist' based between Lima, Peru and Oslo, Norway. Ghattas is a vernacular socialist with an artistic exploration at the intersection between cooperative networks, solidarity economies, and decentralized art futures. In 2018, he received an MFA Art and Public Space from Kunsthøgskolen I Oslo. Early in 2020, he co-initiated Verdensrommet, a mutual support network for immigrant artists in Norway. Ghattas is also co-founder of the artist-led mediation platform The Union and founder of the indigenous-contemporary art center and social housing Machaqmara Civic Art House. Alongside his art practice, he has held positions at Oslobiennalen, OSLO PILOT, Ekebergparken, and UKS (Young Artists’ Society). The artist has recently performed board duties at UKS and Samspill International Music Network.