Utopia is possible

At the MACBA, the La utopía es posible exhibition gathers ideas and documentation revisiting the 1971 ICSID congress in Ibiza, where the Instant City Manifesto proposed participation as a way of building a city.

When somebody asks if utopia is possible, what can be the answer? Fifty years ago, in the context of a low budget design congress in Ibiza which took place in a critical economic and political moment, a group of persons, including architects and designers, agreed that indeed, utopia is possible.

In 1971, the 7th Congress of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) was held at Cala de Sant Miquel, a bay on the north-west coast of Ibiza, away from the usual urban venues. In the years of Franco's dictatorship, dominated by repression, censorship and lack of freedom, Ibiza was still a relatively unspoilt environment, sparsely urbanized. Currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona (MACBA), the material of the 7th ICSID Congress becomes a remarkable resource of information, that goes beyond the simply archive to transform itself in an exhibition.

Located on this bucolic place and immersed in the spirit of the time, following the work of groups like Archigram and Haus-Rucker-Co among others, this event was intentionally focused on spontaneous interventions and a lack of structured program. The main idea was based on having several "speaking rooms" where participants had place and time for discussions related with architecture, design, art and technology. In this context, one of the most important interventions was the participation of José Miguel de Prada Poole, who created the Instant City to provide accommodation for the attending students that didn't have space in the two hotels on the bay. As Prada Poole wrote on his Letter of the "Ad Hoc Committee" , the intention was to use an inflatable structure taken from the University City of Madrid and allow the students to be part of the construction process and after that, to use it during the days of the congress. Carlos Ferrater and Fernando Bendito, both students of architecture at the time, established the Ad Hoc Committee and drew up the Instant City Manifesto , alongside Luis Racionero.
Top: <em>Ceremonial and Vacuflex 3</em>, 1971. Jordi Gómez Archive. Above: <em>Vacuflex-3</em>, 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
Top: Ceremonial and Vacuflex 3 , 1971. Jordi Gómez Archive. Above: Vacuflex-3 , 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
The ICSID Congress was an experiment in socialization, an example of how communal work, vitality, intellectual reflection and leisure can be used to promote dialogue between different practices. This collaborative approach was present since the opening dinner, which was based on a multicolor ceremonial organized by several artists in order to create a counterpoint to the rigidity of a traditional congress. Some other artists participated with creative interventions, like Muntadas and Gonzalo Mezza, who created Vacuflex-3 , a mobile sculpture consisting of an 150-metre-long industrial green plastic tube. In the interactive intervention, the tube was carried to different areas around the bay. Josep Ponsatí installed a large inflatable sculpture in Cala de Sant Miquel, composed of big white plastic balloons, measuring 40 metres in length at one point. Being in constant movement, the organic forms kept changing. It was a different way of looking at art.
<em>Instant City</em>, 1971. Col!lecció MACBA. Centre d'Estudis i Documentació. Fons Xavier Miserachs
Instant City , 1971. Col!lecció MACBA. Centre d'Estudis i Documentació. Fons Xavier Miserachs
It is curious to realize how much the current times are focusing again on bottom-up and ad-hoc strategies. Perhaps it's because the difficult economical situation in Spain during 1971 is, ultimately, very similar to the current one. Not in political terms — dictatorship has nothing to do with democracy, not even considering democracy's failures — but in terms of economical constrains. The reaction of young architects to find new ways of action and the perception that architecture can be a catalyst for change, is present in both moments. These constrains bring back the need to rethink the role of the architect, and how to adapt our practice to this new state of the world.
The exhibition is located in two main rooms of the MACBA, the huge white cube museum: a perfect scenario to display documentation of the congress in several media: correspondence, magazines, film and sound recordings
Congress signage, 1971. America Sanchez Archive
Congress signage, 1971. America Sanchez Archive
In order to generate critical thinking and create a platform for meeting and debate, the Instant City Manifesto proposed participation as a way of building a city, based on work as a means of communication. In this context, the idea of revisiting all this archived material and making it public in an exhibition is extremely important.

Knowing our history, we can be capable of comparison and to learn from the past, while simultaneously taking action for the future. In 1971 the ICSID Congress preceded the Encuentros de Pamplona ["Pamplona Meetings"] that took place the following year, and which could be seen as a prolongation in an urban context of the innovative spirit that the ICSID had developed in a natural environment. Nowadays we can witness how these actions and social movements are present in an active way in events as important as the Venice Biennale, the Istanbul Design Biennial or in architecture festivals such as Eme3 , among others.
<em>Ceremonial</em>, 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
Ceremonial , 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
La utopía es posible is located in two main rooms of the MACBA, the huge white cube museum: a perfect scenario to display documentation of the congress in several media: correspondence, magazines, film and sound recordings. It is an exhibition of ideas and not of objects.

Adolfo Natalini once pointed that "utopia is not an alternative model: it puts forward unresolved problems (not problem-solving but problem-finding )". Thinking on Natalini's idea, we can see that Prada Poole found a problem (the lack of accommodation space) and proposed a "problem-solving" idea (the instant city); so perhaps we can be optimist enough to believe him when he said, referring to Instant City, that the ICSID Congress in Eivissa was the proof that utopia is possible . We profoundly believe that indeed, it is. Ethel Baraona Pohl (@ethel_baraona)
Inflatable of Josep Ponsatí, 1971. Raimon Torres Archive
Inflatable of Josep Ponsatí, 1971. Raimon Torres Archive
Through January 2013
La utopía es posible
MACBA
Barcelona
Instant City, 1971. Col!lecció MACBA. Centre d'Estudis i Documentació. Fons Xavier Miserachs
Instant City, 1971. Col!lecció MACBA. Centre d'Estudis i Documentació. Fons Xavier Miserachs
Inflatable of Josep Ponsatí, 1971. Arxiu Jordi Gómez
Inflatable of Josep Ponsatí, 1971. Arxiu Jordi Gómez
<em>Vacuflex-3</em>, 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
Vacuflex-3 , 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
Debates of the Congress, 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
Debates of the Congress, 1971. Joan Antoni Blanc Archive
Congress signage, 1971. America Sanchez Archive
Congress signage, 1971. America Sanchez Archive

Latest on Art

Latest on Domus

Read more
China Germany India Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Sri Lanka Korea icon-camera close icon-comments icon-down-sm icon-download icon-facebook icon-heart icon-heart icon-next-sm icon-next icon-pinterest icon-play icon-plus icon-prev-sm icon-prev Search icon-twitter icon-views icon-instagram