The Ideal State


The work shown here, which I’ve titled The Ideal State, is the beginning of a project that will extend over several years, accumulating enough material for a book in the end. Essentially, I set out to document a large number of idealistic and utopian communities, groupings or individuals around the world, all having in common a general dissatisfaction with contemporary society. I’m interested in how this discontent can lead to withdrawal from society, but at the same time be a catalyst for innovation and establishing new social and economic structures. 

The Ideal State is obviously related to the documentary genre in some ways, but I feel even more kinship to the genre of visual anthropology, in the sense that I aim to use photo-documentation as an aid for describing, analysing, communicating and interpreting human behaviour. I also use my projects as an excuse to go out in the real world and ask the questions that are puzzling me at the moment.

I want to make art that’s political, outward and aesthetic – art that dares to be ideological and asks ethical questions, but with formal qualities as well. I imagine that art could constitute a voice equal to journalism and academicism in the public debate. But how?

I find resonance in the term ‘silent realism’ coined by Joseph Anthony Ward in the book American Silences when trying to describe Walker Evans’ pictures and James Agee’s writing. Both this silence and a certain slowness is foundational for my work, in that I strive to look for the initial and immanent quality of photography: as a time capsule, a fragment of narrative and a window. In writing this, I can see that my ongoing project The Ideal State deals with utopian ideas on both an artistic and an ideological level, on one hand trying to make art that is somehow useful, while on the other depicting individuals or communities striving to create an ideal life.


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Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that rejects compulsory school as a primary means for learning. Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences, including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors and social interaction. Unschooling encourages the exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves.

Permaculture is the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing appropriate technology and community development. It aims to offer a practical, creative approach to the problems of diminishing resources and threatened life-support systems now facing the world.

Peak oil is a term coined by geologist and geophysicist M. King Hubbert. It refers to the peak in oil extraction. In a world where the economic system is based on a continuous expansion, ‘peak oil’ represents a threat to the system itself. Many argue that this will cause an economic crisis that will push forward the need for a new economic system.

Occupy aims to fight back against the system that has allowed the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. The movement does not want the wealthiest to hold all the power, to write the rules governing an unbalanced and inequitable global economy, thus foreclosing on the rest of the population’s future.

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An intentional community is a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle.

The Food Freedom movement fights for the right to be well nourished and consume nutrient-dense, GM-free, whole, raw, fresh, unprocessed, locally raised foods and beverages, including water; the right to save seeds, to grow food, to keep livestock, to access to grazing for cattle, to store water, to use natural medical alternatives, to raise hemp, to make butter, to make cheese and render lard.

Frugality is the quality of being sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the use of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.

Community resilience is about building new social-ecological systems in a world of multiple emerging challenges: the decline of cheap energy, the depletion of critical resources like water, complex environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity loss, and the social and economic issues that are linked to these.

Eivind H. Natvig                                                                                                                                                                                                           Thomas Østbye