Australian Video Art Archive

Jill Scott


Frontiers of Utopia

00:04:23 1995

Continuing on from my interest in the relationship between desire, design and memory I returned to some earlier historical research I had made about women, immigration and political idealism. At the same time, the work of Margaret Mead (the anthropologist) was being questioned, as she had been accused of generalizing about the idealism of transmigratory culture. The attempt was to provide the viewer with a hybrid environment called Frontiers of Utopia, a place to experience the frontiers of cultural desires and political ideals through the meeting of eight reconstructed characters.

These were Emma (based on the life of the anarchist Emma Goldman), Mary (rural socialist in Paraguay), Margaret (secretary in a New York design firm), Pearl (an aboriginal poet), Maria (Yugoslavian hippy), Gillian (Marxist student radical), Ki (Chinese physicist) and Zira (new age programmer). All the characters have different political viewpoints. Using interactive suitcases and touch sensitive screens, the sounds and images from the lives of these women were able to be accessed from four terminals related to the years 1900s, 1930s, 1960s and 1990s respectively.

In Frontiers of Utopia, the concept was that the viewer could learn to move into isolated time zones where they could immerse themselves in political history in a non-linear way. In each terminal, stories about the struggles of workers, the plight of students, the relationship between women and archetypical attitudes toward the implications of media and technology were able to be experienced. However, I wanted to allow the viewer to draw parallels between periods and locations based on shared class and gender. I searched for references from art and I remembered attending Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party from the seventies in San Francisco. I used this direct influence to present the viewer with an interactive interface where one reconstructed character could meet another. It took the form of a large photograph of all eight woman from Frontiers of Utopia, eating together and the viewer could touch two of their faces in order to select who would talk to whom and from what era. The aim was to allow the viewer to ‘cross time zones’ in order to compare the idealism from different generations more easily.

DVD available.