We Are Just Locals. A Discussion with Map Office

Maurizio Bortolotti


Maurizio Bortolotti: Science fiction and the thinking of Utopia in the twentieth century are connected with Modernity in relation to the attempts to interpret and represent the future. Indeed, science fiction and Utopianism constitute a visionary way to give a shape to the idea of Modernity. But this idea remains quite generalised without a beter focus on its local expression, by which I mean “Local Modernity”.

This is not a general concept or representation like Modernity at large, but a more specific and concrete reality. I would say that it is a real social space where expectations for life and for imagination about it are blurred with raw facts. We could say that science fiction (and Utopia) camouflage reality, making hypotheses from our expectations of the future and offering us a general vision of it. Local Modernity is not a general - and abstract - vision, but a real one.

As I had a chance to say in a recent public discussion with you in Istanbul, artists and architects like to produce reality, and reality is also blurred by imagination. So, I think that there is a connection between locality, everyday life and its small visions (or small utopias). I remember that in the same discussion you mentioned an episode from 'Star Wars', the science fiction movie by George Lukas. The protagonist enters a place asking for information and he finds two robots answering, "we don't know, we are just locals". And this episode struck me a lot, because in some way it is emblematic, an image and a starting point for a discourse about Local Modernity, where expectations for the future are really embodied in a specific context. There are a lot of elements in this: the future, the assertion of being local, and everyday life blurred with fantasy.

Gutierrez + Portefaix: Yes, we do remember this discussion. Back home we wanted to make sure of this reference and watched Star Wars again. The sequence is even more crudely about reality than what we described. To resume the story, Qui-Gon Jinn Jedi master just saved the life of the creature Jar Jar Binks, and here is the transcript of the dialogue: QGJ: “You almost got us killed! Are you brainless?” - JJB: “I spake.” - QGJ: “The ability to speak does not make you intelligent. Now, get out of here..." After a short walk, the Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi arrives, followed by droids. The dialogue continues: QGJ: “Stay down!” - JJB: “You saved me again.” - OBK (to QGJ): “What's this?” - QGJ: “A local." And so the two Jedis decided to follow the local, as he was the only one who knew the locality. In this context, we can interpret the relationship between the Jedis and the local as a paradigmatic example of any interaction involving a global and a local configuration. The reality of this scene is as perverse as a colonial situation. It is colonisation in a global (universal) context, with a much bigger gap than the one we used to know.

So as far as we can interpret the concept of future through questions related to science fiction and globalisation, we would prefer to use the concept of 'eunomy' (from the Greek goddess), which refers to a state of orderliness and good rule. More precise than 'utopia', eunomia implies an achievable scientific organisation of society. Most aspects of globalisation are eunomic as they depend on the conception of an organized world. Utopia can still be used in relation to local contexts as it implies a level of impossibility as well as a sense of territorial definition a topos or location. In that sense, we would suggest amending the assertion "we are just locals" to say "we are all locals".

MB: Yes, it's interesting that you mention this idea of locality as a scientific organisation of society, implying the presence of technology in our "local" life. But technology tends to repeat itself in the same way everywhere. The point here seems to me to be the adaptation of technology to local life, which can create specific conditions. And local modernity is this adaptation. So, looking at your definition of 'eunomy', I would say that the important aspect of this is its location in the relationship between expectations for a good life - that technology can help to achieve - and the real conditions of life. This gap can be filled with imagination or small utopias, which are part of everyday local life. And you're talking of an achievable scientific organisation of society, offering in this an optimistic view. And this optimism interests me a lot. In that sense, I think the gap I mentioned before between expectations and the real conditions of life can be filled with optimism, which might be seen as the imagining of everyday utopias as an engine for building up our lives. Local modernity is the story of all this. Science fiction can offer us a representation of this struggle between expectations and real conditions of life filled by an optimistic view, which takes the on the shape of another planet, world, or life, as in Lukas' movie.

Local Modernity is all of this: the condition of globalisation implemented in the terms you mentioned of scientific organisation of society; the everyday utopias, and imagined realities that help us to act in and build our life; and a perception of a really specific social landscape. Yet human relations are also a really important part of Local Modernity - how are they built? It seems to me that they are at the core of our discussion. So, I would like to develop your definition in this way: "we are all locals" because there is no other possible reality. Any general view is just an abstraction without proper consequences in our lives and creates a false perspective. In that sense, exploring locality means focusing on concrete relations in a real social space. This need not just be simply practical, but also filled with imagination, which itself is a real condition.

G + P: As we all know, futuristic visions and science fiction have been amongst the most widely known products of the last century, but at the same time this is deceptive. Utopia in the nineteenth century was essentially social (Fourier, Marx, etc). Only in its third phase at the beginning of the twentieth century was it based on technology and scientific hardware. We believe that it is today legitimate to propose new alternatives and develop new perspectives. To do this we have to return to the optimism of a local community in order to reconstruct our own sense of value. In the early 70's, the Italian avant-garde groups Superstudio, Archizoom and UFO Gruppo established an alternative school named 'Global Tools' to teach subjects related to "the use of natural and artificial materials, the development of individual and group creative activities, the use and techniques of information and communication media, and techniques of survival”. The 'Project Zeno', presented by Superstudio at the 1978 Venice Biennale, is a perfect illustration of how to go back to these essentials. Here tools and shelter built by the Tuscan farmer Zeno are used to question 'elementary architecture'. We understand this project now in relation to the reconstruction of value and the possibilities offered by local communities to build a new 'eunomy'. Similarly, in our work we look at those positive individual or collective constructions. The life underneath an elevated private highway in China, for example, the informal economy of a Turkish public space, the appropriation of a landscape by a group of common interest in Hong Kong and so on, are all possible scenarios for us to construct this new perspective. Yes, in that respect we can easily conceive of optimism as a strategic practice, focusing on the local context with or without any technological prosthesis, that could lead us to those possible futures.