Utopias South and East

The 1950s to 1970s were an era of space exploration, when humanity was setting out to discover a new world—an endeavor that was on par with the character and prerogatives of kinetic art, tying in with the desire to transcend the limits of painting; quite literally, to soar into the air. In 1958, Hannah Arendt began her reflections on the human condition with the world’s reaction to the launch of Sputnik in 1957: “second in importance to none, not even to the splitting of the atom,” which led to the surmisal that “Mankind will not remain bound to the earth forever.” In Arendt’s view, “science has realized and affirmed what men anticipated in dreams that were neither wild nor idle.” These dreams had long kindled in the minds of the kineticists.

As early as 1944, the twenty-year-old Argentinean artist of Hungarian descent, Gyula Kosice, wrote that the last installment of the history of humankind would no longer unfold on planet Earth. Two years later, he began work on his visionary project of mobile residential spaces floating freely some 1,000-1,500 masl. The artist insisted that in the search for a solution to the challenges posed by the booming global population, it was imperative to abandon the confines of conventional thinking. His levitating cities were one way for humanity to rise above the constraints of the Earth, to do away with our geocentric thinking. Kosice’s project was a daring, holistic vision that dreamed up new habitable environments that would also contribute to the shaping of new human communities, drawing freely on the achievements of technological revolutions past, present and future. Although Kosice’s Hydrospatial City had grown out of his faith in the future, it was suffused with a profound pessimism. His despair about rising social and economic inequality, the destruction of the environment on a massive scale was compounded by the suffocating threat of nuclear annihilation—the Cold War’s most searing fear.

The utopian character of Kosice’s project fed into a veritable avalanche of popular science-fiction literature, films, and scientific theories based on ever-changing visions of the future, perfectly encapsulating the prevailing anxieties and hopes of the time.