Bold Tendencies, London
Written on the occation of the Bold Tendencies 2021 Programme: Arcadia, featuring work from Rebecca Ackroyd, Frances Drayson, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Andy Holden, Rene Matić, Jesse Pollock, Harold Offeh (18 May — 18 September 2021).
Asking what drives our desperation for the outside, what Arcadia renders possible today and what is prohibited by it. Through the work of 7 artists, the programme explored what happens when our connection to nature—and to each other—frays and unravels; how utopian dreams succumb to the theatre of ideology and its discontents; and how our contemporary moment, defined by renewed questions of rural and metropolitan, local and global, science and mysticism, has ignited new and dynamic perspectives on a subject old as the Garden itself, asking what Arcadia looks and feels like in the 21st century.
“We dream of harmony, conjure a wilderness unspoiled by avarice and brutality. A common wealth of land, labour and adoration, a common ground of public spirit, modesty and devotion—what William Morris called ‘the childhood of the world’. In its serenity we are love-drunk. Rustic landscapes speak with ancient innocence—the voice of eternity, the Garden from which we were expelled. Arcadia: in green and pleasant land, how rich and plentiful it all seems.
Idylls of an uncorrupted world are found across histories, illustrated in fiction and poetry, instantiated in counter-cultural enclaves from the Paris Commune to Woodstock to Silicon Valley; constructed in the Mughal gardens of Kashmir, ashram monasteries and organic architecture. Arcadia is to utopia what apocalypse is to its adversary: the unattainable. Rousseau’s State of Nature—from which we irrevocably turned, Eliot’s door never opened. Enthralled by its beauty, a truth concealed; as for Walter Benjamin reminds us, “a storm is blowing from Paradise.”
Embodied in myths and rituals, extricated by science and technology, the shifting—and conflicting—histories of Arcadia are widespread, found in the frenzied dancing of pagan subjects, dejected punks and rapturous all-night ravers; in Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” or political campaigns for a Green New Deal. Heard in the clamour of a courting bird-song, amongst cabalistic mantras and in the sacrificial chords of The Rite of Spring. Felt in our surrender to nostalgia, melancholy and irreverent optimism for the future.”