On Drawing Heterotopia

by Grit Koalick.

According to Focault[1] heterotopias are spaces with contrasting meanings and specific rules, reflecting social circumstances by representing, negating or reversing them. They can be seen as a kind of already realized and located utopia. Drawing is an activity to convert ideas and concepts into a visible format, which is easy to understand. Drawing heterotopia aims at spreading ideas for social development of the future that people produce and test experimentally in heterotopian environments.

It‘s valuable to use a given site – either a heterotopian place or any place you think it could possibly be used as a heterotopian example. Start with an open mind. Walk the site as a neutral, unbiased observer. Make notes of any kind about the spots of your interest. Take photos and make sketches, listen to the stories people tell you and count your steps, find colours and materials, collect sounds and lost properties. Everything could be important.

View the material and weigh it. Analyze its structure and choose what‘s important and what isn‘t. Mind the two sides of heterotopia: Find out which aspects connect the place to the system as we know it and which other aspects characterize it as part of utopia. Form a hierarchy of ideas you ought to tell, ideas you like to tell and ideas you might tell. Decide which ideas you won‘t tell. You are the curator of the ideas you gathered.

Plan your drawing. Choose a comfortable pen and a huge sheet of blank paper since you plan to draw an overview of the world as you wish it will be in the near future. It will take time and space to tell. Use a perspective, which enables the audience to see the present and future simultaneously and in only one drawing. The perspective should allow identifying the place at a glance. The place symbolizes both a particular place and the system as a whole.

Draw! Start from the shape of the place and fill it with rich details. Do it alone or do it with others. A drawing is a place where everything is possible, so you are not bounded by visible reality. You can both map ideas and objects you actually found, and explain invisible relations or invent something not even existing yet. The given details will link the drawing to reality, while new facts are widening the horizon. You are not a provider of truth rather do you compose the world out of your imagination. All ideas that can be imagined can also be drawn and drawn ideas might influence people and come true.

Let the drawing grow. Use spatial arrangements like proximity, distance and grouping for arranging a system. Exaggerate what is important and do away with the less important. If you get the impression that your sheet is to small, you can expand your space by more sheets. Ask Google only if you cannot draw something. If pictorial language fails, write words. If you are tired of hand drawing, use a computer. Sleep one night before you publish your drawing. Discuss it with your colleges you do not feel sure about something.

Show your heterotopian drawing to the people. Place it where many people will recognize it by chance – that might be close to the site or in a newspaper. Choose a space, which is linked either to the particular space or a related discursive space related to our future. Let people read your ideas and think and discuss about them. In the meanwhile, keep silent and study their reactions. Let your ideas be the source of ever more ideas. Utopias found in thick books might be cumbersome for a wide audience. In contrast, low-threshold drawings are easily accessible.

Drawing is fun. If not, stop drawing.

Grit Koalick


[1] Michel Foucault: Andere Räume (1967). in: Barck, Karlheinz u.a. (Hg.), Aisthesis. Wahrnehmung heute oder Perspektiven einer anderen Ästhetik, Leipzig 1992, S. 34-46

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