Art Media and Performance / Book review / Event

Between Utopia and Dystopia

By Jan Baetens

La Maison d’ailleurs (“The House of Elsewhere”) is a Swiss museum exclusively devoted to the world of science-fiction (http://www.ailleurs.ch/en/). It currently hosts a major exhibition, Mondes Imparfaits/Imperfect Worlds, on the famous Belgian comics series, The Obscure cities, by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters.[1]

Mondes ImparfaitsThis major event (17 November 2019 – 25 October 2020), which offers a wonderful survey of the artwork of the series (gradually morphed into a transmedial universe that also blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality), is built around a reflection on the tension between utopia and dystopia.

In the lavishly illustrated catalog that serves as the companion volume to the show,[2] the Obscure cities world is framed from three different perspectives, which allow for a broad contextualization of the series’ themes and visual world. Part One is an essay by François Rosset (University of Lausanne) on the notion of utopia, which is approached from a historical as well as thematic point of view. It presents the major landmarks of the genre in various media, while addressing topics such as travelogues, paradise, or frontiers. Part Two, logically devoted to dystopia, contains a study by Marc Atallah (director of the Museum and equally Professor at Lausanne). It also presents its subject with the help of key examples borrowed from several media, mainly literature and cinema, and discusses issues such as alienation and surveillance. The Third Part of the Book is an in-depth conversation with the makers of the series, François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, who bring together the reflection on their own work and their ideas on utopia and dystopia, more particularly on the way in which the Obscure Cities help question social, artistic, philosophical, and human aspects of an imagined but highly recognizable world.

Imperfect Worlds is not only a great book for the quality of these texts, it is also a richly illustrated and beautifully printed volume that will prove the starting point of many new explorations into the world of science fiction, which as we know is totally part of our own world.


[1] The complete series is now available, for close-reading as well as for binge-reading, in four superb boxes, published with Casterman, see: https://www.casterman.com/Bande-dessinee/Collections-series/albums/les-cites-obscures

[2] Mondes imparfaits. Autour des Cités obscures de Schuiten et Peeters, Yverdon/Brussels : Maison d’ailleurs/Les Impressions nouvelles, ISBN : 9782874497308, 128 pages, hardback, 28,50 euros. ISBN : 9782874497308.