Sigmund Freud described the German word Heimlich “homely” as denoting “on the one hand, what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight”.  Vacillate between yearnings for the safety of home—a sanctuary; we feel its loss more deeply in a globalized society.

The primary function of utopia, especially in this more holistic form, is says Miguel Abensour, the education of desire. Utopia creates a space in which the reader is addressed not just cognitively, but experientially, and enjoined to consider and feel what it would be like not just to live differently, but also to want differently so that the taken for granted nature of the present is disrupted. This is what sociologists call de-familiarizing the familiar. We enter Utopia’s proper and newfound space: the education of desire. This is not the same as ‘a moral education’ towards a given end: it is, rather, to open a way to aspiration, to ‘teach desire to desire, to desire better, to desire more, and above all to desire in a different way’.

Objectives:

You cannot identify what it is that is lacking without projecting what would meet that lack, without describing what is missing. In this sense, everything that reaches to a transformed existence can be considered to have a utopian aspect.

  • To form a notion Claire, after “concept”, in our system, each time one falls on a paradoxical structure, and it is in this paradox that asserts utopia. Utopia plays a central role in everything. We are back at it constantly. It occupies a pivotal spot or, as in the word of Fourier, that of “pivot”.
  • My contention is that thinking about utopia as a method, we can address more effectively major problems that confront us. We want to illustrate this in relation to three issues:
    Social exclusion and inclusion.
    Poverty.
    Sustainable futures.
  • Those are areas where we think a utopian method could be put to good effect – although the scale of the research agenda is intimidating.
  • We would substitute that of idea. Idea in the sense of principal or regulative idea, or aesthetic idea according to Kant, or problem according to Deleuze: which suggests or provoking thought, without this one takes the conceptual form. Why? Because this concept requires too precise contour and define, intellectual, prescriptive.  It leads to judgments and demonstrations.
  • To grasp the possibility of a radically different human experience, even though it is sometimes embedded in forms of fantasy that are easily dismissed as wishful thinking, or is often oblique or fragmentary.

The project

Barbara Hepworth once wrote: “I think that what we have to say is formed in childhood, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to say it.”

It is hard to imagine utopias that are not construction attempts of community alternative lifestyles. Therefore the context (socio-historical) and the size of the community is a crucial factor. Living in one of these societies, we can say that for its participants, the real problem of inequality is not that of “power” (in the abstract sense), but the division of work: starting from the sexual division of labor that seems universal, men are very careful that no division of labor appeared.

Utopias are only put in different words a problem as old as the world, the sharing of work and income, but there is one fundamental point that they can not evacuate the exercise of power. The challenge which confronts humanity, is how to participate both as individuals and as groups, as creatively and constructively as possible, in the shaping of this process. That is an important factor we tried to show the children working on the project with them.

We are drawn to the ideal, the good, of a society in which there is happiness, no crime, no violence, cooperation, love, and harmony. We are repelled by the malevolent dictatorship, class-based and oppressive hierarchies, and societies rife with violence and dominated by competition for resources.

What makes a house a home?

In this project, we are not narrating a particular story; we are just addressing a nation experience. We want to create topography of a home in a shape of house where the home is an extension of the self. The idea of “home” is a conflicted one: part sanctuary, part storehouse for our darkest instincts, fears and traumas.

The house I never had…” is not just about the projection of a desired house to meet our needs, but a projected subject, ourselves in some sense redeemed.

Humans have evolved enough sapience to handle most small-group situations. We have even got a capacity to be members of different not always overlapping groups (e.g. work, social club, family, neighborhood) with varying success. But at spatial scales much beyond a few miles, like state, nation, and world, we begin to break down. Judgment fails more often than not it seems. And our societies tend toward dystopia. Our capacity for temporal, especially multi-generational, judgement appears to be restricted to time spans covering our children and grandchildren, and then only for them. We have a tendency to deeply discount the future.

So one of the functions of sapience in the brain is to manage (strategically) our emotions, and, in particular our negative emotions, which could, if otherwise left unmanaged, lead us to the worst dystopian nightmares. We have done it well enough to produce our highly stressful world, but now we think we’ve reached, exceeded, our limit of competency. We are haunted by dystopian nightmares.

Yet our limited sapience has given us a glimpse of what could be and nightmares of what is all too likely in our current state. More capacity to manage our emotions (as well as our intelligence and creativity) would result in more of the good side and less of the bad in inappropriate situations. Better judgements based on what is good for all (meaning the whole world not just what is good for my country), if operative at the individual citizen as well as leadership level, could result in a more eutopian society. Not a perfect society, since no one would be able to say what perfection means. But it could be closer to the ideals we tend to think about when we do imagine a eutopian world.

Having been in contact with the housing reality condition in Egypt, we were mainly touched by the children and the impact of this reality on them. Many of them have no space to practice the basic life activities a child needs. Some cases reaches the shocking stage under which condition some children are living.

From the look in their eyes, the urge they transmit invited us to try to give them the home they should have had, even through a from, a color, even a dream. There, where our project was born.

We started working with a group of children from different ages under the responsibility of the instructor Naema Mohsen who’s engaged socially and culturally in many different communities–based development programs.

Over the last century, utopia has become more fragmentary, cautious, open, and concerned more with process than with content. Sociology has tended to abandon prediction, holism and explanation, in favor of partial accounts and ‘thick description’. At the same time, social theory is suffused with critical and utopian content – although it is always equivocal about this, largely because it treats utopia as goal rather than as method.

Bloch argues that human experience is marked by lack and longing, giving rise to a utopian impulse – the propensity to long for and imagine alternative ways of being. Crucially, however, he said that this longing cannot be articulated other than through imagining the means of its fulfillment. His examples range across myths, fairy-tales, theatre, new clothes, alchemy, architecture and music and religion as well as the more obvious descriptions of social utopias. Bloch’s work demonstrates that if we understand utopia as the desire for a better way of being or of living, then such imaginings are braided through human culture, and vary from the banal to the deeply serious, from fantasizing about winning the lottery “whether or not one has a ticket” to a “sometimes” secularized version of the quest to understand who we are, why we are here and how we connect to one another.

The point of such project is to lay the underpinning model of the good society open to scrutiny and to public critique. We have also tried to rethink what social inclusion might mean in terms of social relationships and quality of life, and to examine the empirical relationship between work, poverty, and social inclusion, with a view of considering what would be necessary to a genuinely inclusive society. Among the conditions of this are the abolition of poverty and the reduction of inequality. Is it this case, as Herbert Marcuse argued some decades ago, that sufficiency for all is possible, but only by the sacrifice of manipulated comforts and over-consumption by some – probably including all of us.

We did depend in our project on the children’s imagination by asking them questions and asking them to translate their answers into forms, colors and ideas. We invited them to collect daily objects or materials that could be reused from within their environment, to bring these materials and try to get it out of its daily context and take them to another one in the project. It was a way to show them that transformation is possible.

“…Working with children I try improve their behavior through theater exercises and by putting some rules to teach them basic manners like respect, reciprocity, exchange, caring, democracy, etc.  I taught them songs and I invited them to use book notes to write or draw everyday in them.” Neama Mohasen

The children worked through a period of almost 2 months, 2 days a week, on building a collective house based on their answers to our questions to them like what would they like to have in their houses that they don’t have.

We asked them to give their dream houses names and that was an interesting starting line for them to tell stories related to the names they proposed.

One of the children suggested naming her house “Mahmoud”. When we asked her why would she name it “Mahmoud”?
Her answer was “ I had a twin brother Ahmed & Mahmoud. Mahmoud died when they were young. I want to name the house after him to keep remembering him.”

NEAMA MOHSEN
Project Manager / Instructor
Bio
Since an early age, Neama grew up among a group of young socially engaged “the message of children.” Then she got directed quickly into community-based development programs through several NGOs working in poor neighborhoods of Cairo (child to child programs, protection and promotion of women, street children, disabled children, etc.).
After several years spent within these NGOs in the development field, she headed to the theater and street theater in particular aiming of sending awareness messages related to public issues where children are in difficulties and that deal with women’s position in the community.

Conclusion

When we realize the ability to courageously move, act or dance towards a specific vision, it is only then that we will witness and bring about miraculous things that others had once believed impossible.

Utopia is a dream deep inside each individual and can be realized by following the principles that constitute utopia. It begins with a state of mind where regardless of environment or circumstance we can find peace and happiness and then manifest as a true heaven on earth.

We need to excavate policy documents and policies at national and international level to reveal the underpinning image of the good society within which this abolition of poverty is to sit, and which will result from that abolition. We need to question whether it is coherent, sustainable or good: whether in fact what is implied if not actually envisaged is a possible, or a desirable world.

Like Bloch, in the end he is concerned more about what we imagine. Failure does not make the attempt itself any less necessary. As Morris put it: Men fight and lose the battle, and what they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes it turns out to be not what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under a different name. William Morris: A Dream of John Ball.

The commitment to utopian dream seems impossible to stop – perhaps the right response is indeed, we are realists; we do not only dream, but demand, the impossible.

 

DARB 1718 is a contemporary art and culture center located in Old Cairo in Egypt. Its long-term vision…