A social intervention with artistic connotations makes a politically radical proposal for São Paulo: the right to sit down and enjoy public space, here in the Largo da Batata

Micro-utopias: anthropological perspectives on art, relationality, and creativity
Guest editors:
Ruy Blanes (University of Bergen), Alex Flynn (University of Durham), Maïté Maskens (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Jonas Tinius (University of Cambridge)

Download the introduction

This special issue for Cadernos de Arte e Antropologia (CAA) builds on a conference panel at SIEF 2015, in which contributors discussed how the concept of micro-utopia can be productively theorised outside of the field of contemporary artistic production. The theory of the micro-utopia was elaborated by Nicolas Bourriaud in 1998 and he envisaged it as a call to engage with art practices as collective, relational, contextualised endeavours, thus foregrounding the concrete inter-relations among artists and agents that inform artistic production. This proposal was later subject to critique by Claire Bishop (2004), who noted the absence of plurality and politicised context in her seminal discussion of what has become known as ‘relational aesthetics’. Bishop argued that these art practices did not produce democratic relations but instead built on mechanisms of exclusion that didn’t address the antagonism and inequality in the process of art production pertinent to “the divided and incomplete subject of today” (2004: 79). Recently, Roger Sansi-Roca has addressed this debate in his book Art, Anthropology and the Gift (2014), seeing the artist as an active bricoleur, producer of small-scale models as utopian projections of the world, prototypes, experiments that are as political as any other collective movement. Together with the panel from the SIEF 2015 conference, Sansi-Roca’s connection of art and anthropology via utopia is an ideal pretext for this special issue that is advanced here, within the wider framework of developing an “anthropology of utopia”, which the editors see ultimately as a theory of social creativity.

In the special issue the editors therefore propose to discuss anthropological approaches - ethnographic or theoretical - to human interactions and processes of imagination and creativity. Inspired by the proposals set forth by Bourriaud’s concept of the ‘micro-utopia’, we challenge colleagues to mobilise an understanding of diverse forms of social interactivity as artistic practice whereby processes of interaction are understood as generative, transformational, poïetic microtopias. There is thus a proposition to move beyond the concrete sphere of artistic production, seeing micro-utopias as part of our morphogenetic élan vital (Bergson 1907), the creativity and improvisation of our unscripted everyday lives (Hallam and Ingold 2008) that is however and necessarily framed as political act produced within historical context (Geuss 2009). The goal of this special issue is thus to engage with micro-utopias as ‘concrete utopias’ (McGuire 2011): examples - from artistic collaborations to architectural configurations, political localisms, economic partnerships, religious community makings, etc. - of the collective elaboration of meaning, temporal redefinition, and new social interstices.

The introduction to this special issue and all articles are available for download without any restriction via the link below
Special Issue: Micro-utopias: anthropological perspectives on art, relationality, and creativity

Jonas Tinius
Rehearsing Detachment: Refugee Theatre and Dialectical Fiction

Floris Schuiling
The Instant Composers Pool: Music Notation and the Mediation of Improvising Agency

Alex Flynn
Subjectivity and the Obliteration of Meaning: Contemporary Art, Activism, Social Movement Politics

Anne-Sophie Reichert
How to Begin, Again. Relational Embodiment in Time Arts & Anthropology

Jan-Jonathan Bock
Approaching Utopia Pragmatically: Artistic Spaces and Community-Making in Post-Earthquake L’Aquila

Neylan Bağcıoğlu
Artistic Labour: Seeking a Utopian Dimension

Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier
Microtopia in Counterpoint: Relational Aesthetics and the Echo Project

Tomás Sánchez Criado e Adolfo Estalella
Antropocefa: un kit para las colaboraciones experimentales en la práctica etnográfica Antropocefa: A kit for experimental collaborations in ethnographic practice


Roger Sansi
Afterword. After Utopias.

auflynn [at]

Alex Ungprateeb Flynn is an Assistant Professor at the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, University of California, Los Angeles. Working as an anthropologist and curator, Alex’s practice explores the intersection of ethnographic and curatorial modes of enquiry. Researching collaboratively with activists, curators and artists in Brazil since 2007, Alex explores the prefigurative potential of art in community contexts, prompting the theorisation of fields such as the production of knowledge, the pluriversal, and the social and aesthetic dimensions of form.