Tuesday, 1 January 2013
Manifesto for a Museum of Utopias
With the refurbished William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow emerging (as it should) as a significant force in Morris studies, it may well be time for the Kelmscott House Museum in Hammersmith to rethink what it is all about, to refocus its identity and move forward accordingly. It could concentrate on its west London locality, on the Hammersmith printing and publishing community that Morris and Emery Walker built up between them, on book arts and the private press movement. Indeed, it should do this, but only up to a point – to go too far down this route would risk parochialism.
In my view, we should rather think of Kelmscott House as News from Nowhere gives it to us, as the portal to utopia, the place where you might go to bed tonight and wake up bewildered two hundred years hence in a genuinely liberated human future. To conceive of the house in such terms is to invent a quite different and more ambitious future for it; it is in effect to make its future the very category of the future itself, as a place of utopian study and imagination. Let us by all means keep the basement and Coach House as they essentially are at present, as spaces for the historicist exploration of Morris and his circle, or of the book arts or 1880s socialism or Victorian poetry or arts and crafts. But let us take back the upstairs Coach House flat into Society usage as a new space for utopia, as a portal to many futures.
A Museum of Utopias, then. As far as I know, there isn’t one already in existence; and heaven knows, given the economic and environmental disasters we face, we need active utopian thought and experiment more than ever. There’s a lot of space in that upstairs flat, much potential therefore for the celebration of utopias past and the encouragement of utopianism present and future. I’m not sure I fully know what a Museum of Utopias should look like (though I have some hunches), but I don’t believe it is beyond our collective wit to dream one successfully into being. Let us even give ourselves a deadline: 2016, the five-hundredth anniversary of the founding work of the genre, Thomas More’s Utopia, as the date by which a fully functional museum of the future in Hammersmith should be up and running.