BY Magalí Arriola in Fan Letter | 24 JAN 19
Featured in
Issue 200

Susan Buck-Morss’s ‘Dreamworld and Catastrophe’

‘Her work challenges the way 20th-century history has been shaped in our cultural imaginaries’

BY Magalí Arriola in Fan Letter | 24 JAN 19

Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrope: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West, 2000. Courtesy: MIT Press   

What book could conceptually link the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin atop Boris Iofan’s 1933 proposal for the Palace of the Soviets – a never-built administrative centre near the Kremlin in Moscow – to the image of King Kong clinging to the spire of the Empire State Building? Susan Buck-Morss’s Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West offers one explanation for how we overcome the holdover binaries of the cold war. Her work challenges the way the history of the 20th century has been shaped in our cultural imaginaries by reassessing the dream of mass utopia with an analysis of collective political desire. Weaving pictures with history and theory, Buck-Morss approaches images and text from a materialist perspective, linking a series of key words and concepts in an operation that, for me, deeply resonated with curatorial practice. Her montage-like methodology not only eliminated the hierarchical relationship between figures and words, but also disciplinary classification in order to produce a liberating reading experience in which affect as much as reason were mobilized. Art, film and mass media serve as the inspiration for her book rather than as its illustrations, allowing her to reveal new creative perspectives for exhibition making. 

Magalí Arriola is an art critic and independent curator based in Mexico City, Mexico. She is a contributing editor of frieze.