Jeremy Deller Flies a Flag for the Utopian Dream at Somerset House in London

It's all about positive thinking.

The 'UTOPIA 2016' flag Photo: LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: The 'UTOPIA 2016' flag designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio raised above Somerset House Photo: LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Somerset Houseís resident community of cultural organisations pose in the courtyard with limited-edition Utopia books, designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty for Somerset House
The 'UTOPIA 2016' flag
Photo: LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: The 'UTOPIA 2016' flag designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio raised above Somerset House
Photo: LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Somerset Houseís resident community of cultural organisations pose in the courtyard with limited-edition Utopia books, designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio
Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty for Somerset House

A giant “Smiley” flag was raised over London on the roof of the Somerset House on Monday to mark the launch of “Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility.” Over 500 residents of Somerset House, guests, and passers by gathered to witness the raising of the flag. The emblem, a result of a collaboration between Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge Studio represents a year of positive programming at the landmark London arts venue.

The smiley face stands for myriad movements and ideas, from a smart-phone emoji to a symbol of rave culture. “It’s a symbol that many different generations have used in different ways,” Jonathan Reekie, director of Somerset House Trust, told artnet News. “We gave the brief to Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge and they felt it was a symbol of positive thinking and their version of what a flag that’s celebrating Utopia might look like.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Somerset Houseís resident community of cultural organisations pose in the courtyard with limited-edition Utopia books, designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty for Somerset House

Somerset House’s resident community of cultural organisations pose in the courtyard with limited-edition Utopia books, designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio
Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty for Somerset House

As a reaction to the dystopian attitude that has pervaded the arts lately, reflecting the current chaotic and distressing state of world politics, “Utopia: 2016” marks the 500th anniversary of the publishing of Thomas More’s radical text Utopia (1516), which has inspired the year’s programming.

More was the first person to articulate the idea of a better, idealized world. Taking the title from the Greek word “Utopia,” which means both “good place” and “no place.” Published in 1516, the text emphasizes the importance of “dreaming in the now.” Reekie feels that the idea the book is suggesting, that the reader is encouraged to dream of their own utopia or idealised society is what is most important about the text.

“I think the arts and the creative sector in general have a lot to say about the future and the world we live in—both in positive and negative ways,”  Reekie told artnet News. “There also lots of dystopian artistic views of the world but I think there’s room for the positive. One of the things the arts is about is the power of the imagination, and it feels an entirely appropriate and exciting thing to be doing.”

Deller and Muggeridge studio have also published an edition of Utopia by Thomas More transliterated into More’s imagined utopian language which was handed out to lucky attendees of the flag raising on Monday. The book is also available to purchase from Somerset House and the Courtauld Gallery.

The program includes variety of events including “Utopia Treasury: A Repository of Utopian Ideas,” running currently, and the upcoming “Out There: Our Post-War Public Art” that will be taking place at Somerset House, The Courtauld Gallery, and neighboring Kings College, London and across mainland Europe.

Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility” will run at Somerset House throughout 2016.


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