Widely exhibited an internationally lauded for his film poem series, Trains of Winnipeg; writer and moving image artist Clive Holden lives in Riverdale with wife and Giller Prize nominee, Alissa York. Currently Holden is in production on his comprehensive new project Utopia Suite, segments of which were launched at Images Festival in Toronto, in April 2006 followed by the European launch in Amsterdam at The Holland Festival. Utopia Suite is a visually and contextually complex, meticulously rendered, multimedia investigation of current views regarding the concept of Utopia.
Inspired to begin his new project while conversing with friends at a film Festival in Europe, Holden explains, “Utopia Suite is about maintaining hope. Being conscious about what’s going on in the world without losing hope is extremely difficult. I feel that hope is a very important ingredient of remaining politically progressive. And I think movement is required to make hope… which interests me because I make art with moving images, and I think that this movement itself is Utopia, it’s the destination.”
Utopia is currently understood as meaning an ideal or hypothetical society. It has been used to describe both intentional communities and some fictional societies as portrayed in literature, however the term has been used pejoratively, often by rightist media says Holden; referring to an unlikely place or unrealistic ideal. Holden believes it became out of fashion to discuss idealistic issues as recently as the early seventies. “It’s funny to think that hope would be considered outdated and this may be changing now. I’m tracking the use of the word Utopia on news sites on the web and it’s cropping up much more than say, three years ago. Recently the word started appearing in the centre left and more progressive media but very cautiously. Op Ed pieces would contain questions like ‘Is it time to start thinking like this again?’ They wanted to not make the same mistakes that it’s perceived we made in the sixties, or I think simply to not be laughed at.”
Holden made some initial discoveries regarding this topic, early on. “As a teenager I discovered both Utopian and Dystopian literature.” He comments. “I read Orwell, Huxley and then Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. Now, I’m trying to approach Utopianism as a dynamic and organic process, rather than as a static edifice or place. What is the ideal state, or city, or world? These ideas can be very problematic in the way they’ve been presented traditionally, often with built-in racism or a slave class for example.”
With such a seemingly boundless concept, Holden’s creative process is indeed lengthy, each project potentially taking many years to complete. “I spent the first year reading and researching but I’ve now moved into the core of what I do, or the production phase of making films, videos and the actual moving images. 2008 will be the first year when I’m really going to roll out the work and show it in galleries and at film festivals. One of the things I’m looking at, is a blend of ways to exhibit the work… I also work with text, music and web culture, so the different elements of the ‘suite’ are really conversations between various subcultures in the art world, which is utopian in a way.”
The project incorporates Holden’s strikingly beautiful looped, split screen montage and full screen images with sound and text, in a cycle of films with such titles as Utopia Suite Disco, You Are Being Remembered, Engines of Despair and Jesus Jesus Jesus, dealing with a substantial array of segmented concepts revolving around the central Utopian theme.
In his work, Holden continually disrupts the narrative in an experimental fashion. He admits “It’s very difficult for an artist to subvert or sidestep narrative, because people think by making patterns and they have a love for this, it’s pleasurable––narratives are just patterns, so they’ll build them out of the raw materials you give them. Many film-goers have very conventional ideas of how to view a movie.” Holden believes that we are now unlearning some of the many film conventions we’ve taken for granted. “Ideally, I’d prefer that people approach my films in the way they might listen to music, where they often have a wider range of tastes and more tolerance for complexity.”
Utopia Suite will take Clive Holden into 2012 or 2013. As the project comes to its end, it will include a final large-scale installation; there will be a book, the texts and all the work will be reflected on the web as the project progresses and expands. You can visit/audit Clive Holden’s expansive Utopia Suite in progress, with supporting materials at: http://www.utopiasuite.com/