The Retopian Approach to Art

Dirk Hoyer


In contemporary art there has been a resurgent interest in returning to the idea of Utopia. However 500 years after Thomas More the meaning of the word utopia has become more complex than in the 16th century: is utopia a outopia or a eutopia?  This paper argues the need for a classification of the use of the term of utopia in the context of contemporary art. Is Utopia a contemporary outopia (as shown by artists like Thomas Hirschhorn) that reflects a critical use of the term but excludes any possibility of social change and is pessimistic about artistic agency. Is utopia a contemplative utopia (as artists like Liam Gillick propose) that acknowledges transformative potential of a reality transcending concept but does not articulate any agency? Can the social and political change be achieved through activism without a mental utopian picture (as aimed for in the projects of WochenKlausur)? Or are all three basic attitudes toward utopia in contemporary art a reduction of the transformative potential of utopia because none of them connects a utopian mental picture with the concept of political agency?  Based on a critical reevaluation of Lewis Mumford’s idea of “reconstructive utopia” the concept of retopia is an attempt to revive utopia as a suggestive device that links a utopian mental picture with political agency. The retopia is a reconstructive eutopia that does not make any claim on human nature and avoids abstract universals by explicitly grounding the utopian project in the local environment. Retopia has the claim to be put into practice through social experimentation. A retopian approach to contemporary art (and politics) has the potential to reintroduce reality transcending political concepts that do not replicate the authoritarian cul de sacs of past utopias while at the same time reaffirm the catalyst function of utopian thinking.


Palabras clave

Contemporary Art, Reconstructive Utopia, Agency, Utopian Mental Picture, Political Imagination, Retopia

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