Previously at the ICA - Events

Utopian Realism

Symposium: Utopian Realism Today, the Aesthetics and Politics of Hope

30 Sep 2015

Please note that Utopian Realism Today, the Aesthetics and Politics of Hope will run from 10.45am–5pm, including a break for participants.

While utopianism is often equated with idealism, ranging from the romantic to the authoritarian, it is also conversely seen to entail a certain fidelity to the real in the face of misguided ideologies of progress or versions of messianism. Avowing conditions of powerlessness, this symposium will explore the notion of ‘utopian realism today’ as a question of the politics and poetics of hope.


10.45 - Introductions
11.00 - Sarah Turner on filming community and David Bell on music and improvisation
12.15 - Ahdaf Soueif in conversation with Caroline Rooney
1.15 - Lunch
2.15 - Rachel Holmes on feminism and Adrian Rifkin on post-queer aesthetics
3.15 - Coffee break
3.30 - David Herd on 'Refugee Tales' and Ghada Karmi on Israel/Palestine
4.15 – Panel discussion

Speakers include: David Bell, David Herd, Rachel Holmes, Ghadi Karmi, Adrian Rifkin, Caroline Rooney, Ahdaf Soueif and Sarah Turner.


Sarah Turner is an artist and film director and Reader in Fine Art at the University of Kent. Her films include Ecology (2007) and Perestroika (2009), and most recently Public House. Public House is about to premiere at the London Film Festival and has been short-listed for a Grierson documentary award.

David Bell is a researcher and writer living in Nottingham. He is interested in the potentials of utilizing utopia(nism) within, against and beyond capitalism and the state; and has a particular interest in utopian spaces manifested through musical practice, science fiction literature and alternative forms of education. He works as a Research Associate in the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield, where he explores the role of arts practice in reproducing the city's pasts, presents and futures. 

Ahdaf Soueif is the author of the bestselling novel The Map of Love. Her account of Egyptian events, Cairo: a City Transformed, came out in 2014 (Knopf and Bloomsbury). She writes for the Guardian and the LA Times and has a weekly column in the Egyptian national daily, al-Shorouk.

Caroline Rooney is Professor of African and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Kent and a leadership fellow with the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security. She is the co-director of the arts documentary White Flags (Beirut, 2014), and with William Parry the co-director of The Living Martyrs: Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Jails (2015).

Rachel Holmes is a cultural historian, curator and writer. She is the author of The Hottentot Venus: The life and death of Saartjie Baartman (Bloomsbury), The Secret Life of Dr James Barry (Viking & Tempus Books) and she has co-edited, with Lisa Appignanesi and Susie Orbach, the much-discussed Fifty Shades of Feminis.m (Virago). Her new book, Eleanor Marx: A Life is published by Bloomsbury.

Adrian Rifkin works with film and cinema, classical and popular music, canonical art and mass imagery, literature and pornography. Until recently he was Professor of Art Writing at Goldsmiths. Adrian is a former editor of the journal Art History and a founder of Parallax. He is the author of Street Noises: Parisian Pleasure 1900-40 (University of Manchester Press, 1993) and Ingres Then and Now (Routledge, 2000). He has also written numerous articles, chapters, exhibition catalogues, reviews and radio documentaries on art and art theory.

David Herd is a poet and Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Kent, and his books include All Just (Carcanet, 2012), Enthusiast! Essays on Modern American Literature and John Ashbery and American Poetry. He is a co-founder of the Sounds New Poetry Festival and recently co-organised 'Refugee Tales', a Canterbury Tales for the 21st Century.

Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian activist and writer and an honorary research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. She is the author of In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story (Verso, 2002), Married to Another Man: Israel's Dilemma in Palestine (Pluto Press, 2007) and most recently Return (Verso, 2015).

Dr Julia Borossa is a group analyst and the director of the Research Centre and the Postgraduate Programmes in Psychoanalysis at Middlesex University.  She writes on the cultures and politics of the psychoanalytic movement.

Professor Elizabeth Cowie’s research addresses political and cultural questions of gender and sexual difference. Her monograph, Representing the Woman: Psychoanalysis and Cinema, (London: Macmillan and Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1997) developed from her work on the journal m/f, focussing on feminine spectatorship in cinema. More recently she has been concerned with documentary film, television and video art, which has led to a number of articles and my new monograph, Recording Reality, Desiring the Real.

Glenn Bowman is Professor of Socio-Historical Anthropology at the University of Kent and has carried out extensive field and library research in and on Israel/Palestine and (now) Former Yugoslavia. His most recent research focusses on an explicitly utopic realist project which is the analysis and making visible of practices of intercommunal interaction and sharing that, in opposition to the nationalist and sectarian foci of contemporary identity politics, survive as beacons of a past throwing light on the possibilities of futures in which difference and community are not antithetical terms.

Please note that the bar will close at 5pm for a Private Event on Wednesday 30 September. A pop-up bar will be available in the foyer for cinema goers. The bar will stock a selection of drinks, snacks and sandwiches.

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