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Utopia C6: A history lesson from Antwerp

Section C6 of Utopia.
Section C6 of Utopia.

Two pieces for today – one is something of a nautical soundscape, and the second looks at Thomas More’s relationship with the city of Antwerp, amongst other things.

Prow Song – Stephen Shiell, London, UK

“‘Prow Song’ is a soundscape of field recordings from ‘nowhere’ places – an old windmill in Cabo de Gata-Nijar (Spain), a creaking boat at a Victorian gasworks dock in Canning Town (London), a defunct air-con unit in Quito, (Equador), and a group of voices performing Pauline Oliveros’ ‘Sonic Meditations’ in an old bandstand in Springfield Park (London).

The sounds evoke the sea and the wind, whilst the voices drift in and out, souls taken by the waves, dreaming of distant pasts and imagined futures.”

Hythlodaeus 2015 – The Milena Principle, Antwerp, Belgium

“The soundscape “Hythlodaeus 2015”synthesizes our recent presence (with art performances, field recordings and an interview) by the Milena principle in Venice (September 2015) bringing together the book “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino and the invitation by Cities and Memory to work around the woodcut of Ambrosius Holbein “The island of Utopia”.

Field recordings were made in Venice and complemented with recordings in Antwerp. Venice as “water city” (par excellence) and as an island in a lagoon, connects closely with the print. It resulted in a city soundscape of an imaginary city, as well based on a reconstruction of memories to Venice during a series of visits we made to the city since 1993 in relataion as well to Antwerp.

The visit to this important European harbour city in Flanders inspired the Thomas Mores intensely. His experience of this city was an “Utopia at the [river] Scheldt”. Within the Milena principle the concept of “Utopia” and its renaissance origin was always one of the pillars within its projects: the utopian field of art. Our relation [2015] with Utopia, Thomas More and Antwerp [1515]

Five hundred years ago Thomas More stayed some months in Antwerp. Between July and September 1515 he wrote there the second part of his Utopia , the ideal republic.

On the Handschoenmarkt square at the entrance of the Cathedral of Our Lady you find a commemorative plaque in five world languages: “Here did Thomas More in 1515 allegedly meet the traveler that told him about Utopia”.

During his stay in Antwerp Thomas More befriended with Pieter Gilles (1486-1533), an important city official and a mutual friend of Desiderius Erasmus and spent most of his time there writing the book Utopia. In September 1516 Thomas More sent the manuscript to his friend Erasmus, who had it published by the famous Dirk Martens in Leuven.

In the first pages of Utopia Thomas More tells how his friend Pieter Gilles presents him during a walk on this Handschoenmarkt square to Raphael Hythlodaeus, a Portuguese sailor and explorer, who landed by coincidence on the island of Utopia.

Hythlodaeus is an imaginary character, bringing two Greek words together: hythlos, nonsense, twaddle and daiein: sharing. By ridiculing the name of the explorer of Utopia, More brings in a humor and lightness as a counterweight to most utopian blueprints and as well to protect himself, because criticizing the political establishment of that time was a dangerous undertaking, so the story is told as the fictions of a Portuguese gabber.

After having introduced themselves, so writes More at the beginning of Utopia, we went to my house. We sat on a small bench of grass and started talking. Hythlodaeus tells about one of the fifty four cities of Utopia, all constructed on the same manner, surrounded by a thick, high city wall with many towers and strongholds (exactly as Antwerp was built).

The circular towers on top of the Holbein woodcut refer as well to Antwerp, where the artist, also in a visit during 1515, met with Thomas More and Pieter Gilles.

Next to this, there was was a large Portuguese community in Antwerp, of which in particular the Portuguese Jews contributed to the wealth of the city. It doesn’t seem strange that eventually Portuguese traveler was chosen to became the protagonist of the tale of Utopia. [the Dürer Connection]”