Jeffrey Shaw's and Tjebbe van Tijen's Imaginary Museum

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 role.

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 movements.

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 a dramatized presentation of various interpretations of the past through interactive compact information carriers, on the basis of existing collections.

Archives, libraries, museums, sound and film libraries and other collections both public and private are part of it.

The Museum of the Future also comprises numerous applications at home, in studios and galleries, and for outdoor installations.



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 film.

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 person.

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 a picture.

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.