The Imaginary Museum of Revolution project proposal of Jeffrey Shaw & Tjebbe van Tijen for 1989 in Paris as published in the catalogue of the exhibition in La Villette "Inventer Quatre Vingt Neuf" (Vaisseu de pierres, no.3) *
The following is a translation of an article published in september 1988 in the dutch popular magazine on museums 'Vitrine'. It was written for a general public that is not (yet) acquainted with new technologies.
Developments in informatics and telematics determine the nature of The
Museum of the Future. The old demarcation lines between such information
depositories as archives, libraries and museums are already fading away.
In The Museum of the Future visitors will be invited to play an active
The accumulation of information consisting of documents and objects in archives, museums, libraries and other collections continues steadily. The use of computer systems (informatics and telematics) changes the possibilities of reproduction, storage, retrieval and presentation in such a way that the demarcation lines between these entities (archive, library and museum) are becoming blurred. The link-up of computers causes the disappearance of the traditional separation between individual institutions.
It is already possible in the Netherlands to inspect at home catalogues of big libraries via the telephone with a personal computer and modem. A network (SURF) is under preparation that allows scientists to go through data bases or research data at home. It will be possible in the future to inspect the National Inventory of Art Treasures and to travel abroad 'in one's armchair'.
Ever more sophisticated reproduction and multiplication techniques (first copying by hand, subsequently printing, steel engraving and photography) have yielded the medium that is the modern book. The book has made it possible to see areas and countries without visiting them. A book can constitute collections that have never existed in reality. It can also reconstitute through reproduction, dispersed or even destroyed collections.
Initially picture books comprised only those pictures that were considered masterpieces. In this century photography has made it possible to record, collect and compare practically all aspects of a subject. In the introduction to his book The imaginary museum of sculpture worldwide (1952) French writer André Malraux wrote: ... the imaginary museum is not a list of prize winners; it is in the first place the expression of a human adventure, it is the immense range of imaginary forms.
In earlier days the picture book was relatively rare. Nowadays the so-called
coffee-table book (The Butterflies of the World, The Trees of
the World, All Rembrandt's Paintings) is a mass-product. It
goes without saying, however, that almost every collection is a selection.
In the Museum of the Future the visitor/user will make her/his own choices
rather than follow itineraries mapped out by others.
Microfilms and microfiches allow the storage of books and other documents in a very compact way -in black and white or in colour, texts as well as pictures. The many thousands of pages of a small library fit into a small box. Microfilm publications make it also possible to inspect rare collections of documents located in far away places.
The latest generation of these kinds of compact information carriers
is collectively called
compact disc or laser-disc. There
are various types of cd's to store sound, images, texts or combinations
thereof: CD Audio, video disc, CD ROM (Read Only Memory) , WORM (Write
Once Read Many), CD Interactive. In addition to the possibility to store
large quantities of information on small surfaces the new discs allow direct
access to individual images/sounds/texts - the laser ray that scans the
disc can randomly access every fragment. A quantity of these discs stacked
like records in a juke box means a tremendous new increase in the quantity
of information immediately accessible.
A computer programmed to control the information carrier offers entirely
new possibilities to collect images and texts as well as film and music.
The user can quickly leaf through or read carefully, jump from one sound
fragment to another, project various images alongside or over each other,
combine together various sound fragments and/or spoken texts.
Some artists use these new techniques. American media-artist Benjamin
Bergery recently demonstrated his dream-streams in the Filmhuis
in The Hague, -a construction with bed, camera and film screen. The user
lies in the bed and is recorded by a video camera. The camera converts
the recordings into digital signals controlling a video disc player. As
a result the user sees dreams on the film screen created by her/his own
For the Museum of Science and Technology at La Villette in Paris, Jeffrey
Shaw made the interactive video disc sculpture The Invention of the
World. The user looks through an opening in a cylindrical column and
explores the world as through the periscope of a submarine. Inside the
column is a television monitor and through a system of lenses and mirrors
the spectator sees the imagery as a virtual reality projected out into
the actual space of the museum. By pushing handles and turning the column,
the spectator influences the movement of the image. This manipulation of
the column and handles controls a microcomputer and two video disc players.
The image material gives the spectator the possibility to explore a 360
degree panorama where there are six different symbolic landscapes into
which s/he can travel at leisure.
Man and machine react to each other. The machine (computer) responds
to questions with replies that are a series of choices, and every new choice
means the journey along another information path.
The Museum of the Future is based on connections between image, sound
and other data bases through glass fibre cables, telephone lines and satellites.
Almost everywhere it is also possible to connect existing data bases with
one's own (or borrowed) compact interactive storage devices.
In other words, The Museum of the Future is housed in immaterial electronic
space and has exhibition halls and depots in all places where images, sound
and texts can be sent and received.
The main stock of this museum consists of reproductions of documents
and of copies of objects. But hybrids of originals and reproductions or
replicas are not excluded. The traditional time space experiences of theatre,
film, video, happening or performance can be part of representations of
the past on offer in The Museum of the Future.
The Museum of the Future is located over the world with fluorescing
vibrating surfaces that emanate sound and image. Works of art and products
of human intelligence and nature drawn from all data bases are on show
there. These screens are connected to printing and copying machines. If
desired two or three dimensional reproductions can be obtained.
The means by which the 'visitor' of this Museum moves through electronic
space are key boards, 'mice', touch screens, wireless styluses, tracking
balls, joysticks, speech and pointer sensors, gloves simulating movements
in space, knead switches, vision field commands and other interactive devices.
Stereo-video glasses creating virtual spaces through computer animation
are also available.
While present day retrieval systems are mostly made for text, in The
Museum of the Future the visitors will explore information mainly with
images, supported by text and sound. Pictograms, which daily gain more
importance as a living international language, will 'show the way' in The
Museum of the Future.
The interactive touch screen proposes various options. The stock of
film museums could for instance be directly accessible through their collections
of film posters -touching a poster would then call up the corresponding
Or the screen shows a world globe that can turn in all directions. A
light touching on the screen of a continent makes it appear on the screen
in its entirety, a strong touching brings the map of a specific city or
chosen area. Whoever wants to know more about the time location of a picture,
points to a time ruler. The answer is given in astronomic, geological Western
or non-Western time units. It is possible to then make a direct relationship
to spatial representation giving for example a view of the various political
divisions of Africa in the 19th century.
Pictograms, photograms and other picture language elements with very
short textual explanations (modern emblematics) serve as guides and signposts.
The selection process can also be steered by inserting signs, words or
short sentences. The choice of a certain point in time and space, say,
the Netherlands in the 16th century, can first, via the personal biography
pictogram, command a portrait gallery, after which the user can get more
information about a certain person by touching the image of that chosen
In addition to the possibility to find answers to precise questions
The Museum of the Future offers also the possibility to freely 'roam about'
-associatively going from one subject to another. Like a classification
of drawers, cases, rooms, passages, buildings, streets and itineraries
that are often marked with numbers, names and other indicators, the visitor
to The Museum of the Future can put identifying marks on the screen and
then move to related identically marked information. These marks are also
the prompts that help find the way back to certain information paths, and
so enable the viewer to make the same 'journey' again.
The main expressive elements in The Museum of the Future are montage
and collage: pictures are projected sequentially, alongside and over each
other, thus forming new entities. Other applied means of expression applied
are deformation, recoloration, merging of images, redrawing, superimposing,
animation, and three dimensional simulation.
Touch can also be an expressive element. To move over the surface of
an object with electronic glove or to describe an object in space with
a light pen establishes a network of points that can be converted into
During each stay in The Museum of the Future the visitor calls up a
sequence of pictures, texts and sounds that is unique. There is no fixed
form, each visitor creates his/her own personal tour of the Museum, his/her
own personal re-structuring of that museum.
King Assurbanipal's (669-626 B.C.) Library contained 25.000 clay
tablets with texts a cuneiform script. One of the writers noted: I will
put in the library what pleases the king; that what does not pleases him
I will eliminate.
What is perhaps the most ancient museum, the House of the Muses,
was founded about 300 B.C. in the Egyptian city of Alexandria by one of
Alexander the Great's generals, Ptolemaeus I. This house of the Muses was
later surnamed 'the big library', but it was more than just a collection
of books (papyruses) -it was also an anatomic laboratory, a botanical garden,
a zoological garden, an observatory.
The museum was a library of objects, the library a museum of books.
This is how the present day museums and libraries become departments of
The Museum of the Future.
About 200 B.C. one of the Ch'ing kings, who took the new title of emperor
(hwang-ti) conquered the whole of what we now call China. His councillor
Lu Ssu decreed: Whoever uses the past to criticize the present is to be
put to death together with his relatives. On Li Ssu suggestion almost all
the books in the country were burned except those describing the history
of the emperor's dynasty.
One ruler expressed his power by collecting and presenting elements
of knowledge. The other founded his power on the destruction of all knowledge
and truths except his own.
Nowadays most libraries are institutions which present a plurality of opinion. Yet at the same time the presentations in museums tend to be single minded.
The Museum of the Future sees history as visions of the future projected
into the past. There is no singular historical truth. Each interpretation
of the past is an obsolete product. Thus history can only be the constant
process of reinterpretation of the past.
The frame of the screen is a window which we look through. This uni
dimensionality of the frame transcended by superposing various fields of
view, thus converting them into new entities.
The Museum of the Future creates doubt, shakes certainties, is captivating
and challenging and thus stimulates the visitor to act autonomously.
The Museum of the Future uses available information machines and other technical equipment to make visible, audible and tangible the diversity of things, data and opinions. It is a practical answer to those who see in the computerization of society only the dangers of greater control and less freedom.
The Museum of the Future sets out to mobilize the liberating forces
contained in the new knowledge and techniques.
The full proposal has been published also inside the magazine
Mediamatic, vol.2 no.4 June 1988. The project has been conceived for an
international competition for projects to commerate the bicentenial of
the French Revolution. Among 800 proposals this project was nominated as
one of the first ten best projects. Formally it should have been realized,
but the fact that the French revolution in this porposal was not made the
central item, but representedf as one of the many revolutions in the world,
influenced the decision of the authorities, so at the last moment the project
was dropped. A simple pilot version of the project has been realized the
year after through a commission of the Bruckenerhaus in Linz, Austria,
where it has been on shown for several weeks.