Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars.
Gaze at the beauty of the Earth’s greenings.
— Hildegard of Bingen
The needle skipped the groove of the present.
Into this dark forest you have already turned.
— Timothy Morton
We humans long for an “outside” to the burdens of modernity, a yearning as utopian as it is convenient. We dream of uncorrupted idylls of land and labour, conjure a wilderness unspoiled by avarice and atrocity—William Morris called it “the childhood of the world”. Now more than ever we crave this outside: to capitalism, fossil fuels and overcrowded cities; to technological surveillance, social media and insomnia; to structural inequality, racism and police brutality. An archaic vision of Earth—and our place within it—exhumed, aroused and ignited. Arcadia isn’t hope, still less optimism: it is need, and it is desire.
Arcadia never was that of Rousseau’s ‘State of Nature’—a timeless garden to which we must return—but the dark forest of Morton, alive with the dancing of flora and fauna, pagan subjects and rapturous all-night ravers; the thunder of quarries, fox hunts and the clamours of courting bird-song; the eerie rhythms of non-human forces, felt in the foreignness of abandoned landscapes as in our own bodies. All points of supposed perfection have a hint of menace: Arcadia is a vexed and veering universe, where national pride slides into fascism and rural bliss surrenders to nostalgia; a last gasp of the human in the more-than-human world, where utopian dreams face an open grave.
Conflicts and contradictions ignite our Arcadia —between science and mysticism, rural and metropolitan, outside and other. Our 2021 Programme will explore what drives our desperation for the outside, what Arcadia renders possible today and what is prohibited by it.
We will explore what happens when our connection to nature—and to each other—frays and unravels, when architectures of the past fall to ruin, and who is and isn’t included in the cities and homes that we call ours. The past would seek to foreclose these questions with self-evident truths and a fear of the other; the truth for Arcadia, is that the past is yet to be discovered.