The Isolation Paintings Ghost and Silence, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 1999.

The Isolation Paintings Ghost and Silence, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 1999

Sarah Tripp · Collective Gallery, Edinburgh. Catalogue essay (1999)

Bringing Bad News
from Nowhere

In 1890 William Morris responded to industrial squalor in Britain with his own earnest crusade, a heady mix of a retreat into romantic poetry and a leap into utopian socialism. Morris tried to give form to his infant utopia in writing, oratory and the elevation of the decorative arts. In his publication News from Nowhere Morris describes a dream of sunny meadows, timber dwellings, meaningful labour and happy, healthy social interaction—an anti-industrial society. While utopians like Morris share their dreams, so the disenfranchised can share their optimism: someone has to describe our nightmares.

More than just the spectre of industrialisation now haunts our lives, and as the problems of the west multiply we compensate with boundless visions of electronic unification. Our Armageddon is coming in the form of the Deep Impact of a comet or an alien invasion on Independence Day, but we save ourselves with technology. There are however a number of people who are forging uncompromising images of our anti-utopias. These people present the worst possible outcome. Their visionary power reclaims our black fear of an immanent and cruel retribution… not all visions have to do with the future or the hereafter.1

Some of the men and women who have contributed to a vision of a western anti-utopia are more reluctant than others; E. M. Cioran proclaims Everything I have been able to feel and to think coincides with an exercise in anti-utopia2, others like sufferers of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (M.C.S.) are unwilling participants. These people are living the western consumers nightmare. Janice McNab recently visited New Mexico where she talked with a number of people with M.C.S., took some photographs of where they live and has been researching the condition. McNab is depicting anti-utopia as it creeps into our everyday life, not as post-apocalyptic doom but as the waking nightmare of people disabled by chemical products.


  • 1. Umberto Eco, Apocalypse Postponed, Indiana University Press, 1994 (referring to George Orwell, 1984)
  • 2. E.M.Cioran, The Trouble with being Born, Quartet Books Ltd, 1993.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, Stanford University Press, 1988.
  • 5. Homer-Dixon quoted by Mark Kingwell in Dreams of Millennium, Faber, 1997.
  • 6. Albert Camus, The Rebel, Penguin Books, 1951.
  • 7. Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings.
  • 8. William Morris, Selected Writings and Designs, Penguin Books, 1962.

Anxiety by William Silk.
Review published in The List (1999).

‘Anxiety’ by Iain Gale (2005). Review published in ‘The List’, (1999).

Their work may be on the flakier side by Elisabeth Mahoney.
Review published in The Times (1999).

‘Their work may be on the flakier side’ by Elisabeth Mahoney. Review published in ‘The Times’, (1999).