Tjebbe van Tijen on Tue, 12 May 1998 19:13:08 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Cultural heritage & virtual museums

Text for a telepresence lecture from the ICC Gallery in Tokyo to the conference
 on Virtual Museum by the ARCH Foundation in Salzburg given on 9/8/1998:

being here and somewhere else at the same time is not possible for us
vulnerable human creatures, it is maybe something for the gods and we are
not. So 'tele  presence' is a most reductionist example of human
communication, a flickering image far below the scan rate of the human
eye, flat with no dimensions, no touching, no sensing of the personal
aura, no code for this in communication protocols...

so here I am with you in low resolution and voice from Tokyo

I see history as the projection of our visions of the future onto the
past. History is in this sense is the product of a dynamic process in
which it is reformulated again and again by each culture, generation and
person. It is a vision of what will be on the basis of what was. So this
explains the continuous shifts of emphasis, the differences in
interpretation, the multitude of opinions, differing from person to
person, from generation to generation, from culture to culture.
The museum has always been a place that was trying to deny the
multiplicity of opinions, a place were the interpretation of the world was
fixed through selection, presentation and comment. Selection as a decision
process what not to present and preserve, presentation as a reordering of
meaning of the selected objects, and comment as a an extra device for
fixing the meaning of things presented.

Cultural heritage is a selection of things from the past for future usage.
Whose past? Whose selection? Whose future? These questions need to be
asked. Is not some one's victory the other one's defeat... Do we  want to
prove how unique and important were the cultural expressions of a specific
religion, race, nation, tribe, class, group, or person, implicitly
devaluating other cultural expressions? Or can there be a more positive
approach which points at the unending variation of human expression, the
art of making distinctions between things seemingly similar and showing
similarities between things seemingly different. A cultural heritage that
also explains new generations about failure and defeat, violence and

Museums tend to be state institutions or institutions that are closely
linked to existing power structures. So it is not surprising that their
educator role is for a great part defined by this social position, giving
most often a singular interpretation of the phenomena on show. The
educator role is for a great part defined by this social position, giving
most often a singular interpretation of the phenomena on show. The
technology of museum presentation as it evolved from the mishmash of the
'Wunderkammer' tot the time and style ordering of the 'Galleria
Progressiva', has only slowly absorbed the possibilities of the electronic
media. The physical restrictions of the presentation of objects whereby
the public needed to move through the museum space to 'read' the
exhibition have also made that very little has been done in the
traditional museum technology with presentations that would give multiple
interpretations of the objects on show.

The electronic media, just on their own or in combination with more
traditional presentation techniques, have the potential for making
presentations that do give multiple viewpoints, both literal and on the
level of explanation and interpretation. It is not the new media as such
which will bring this needed shift in the functioning of museums. It is
much more a better understanding of how the construction of our social
memory system, how 'history' works, that could change the role of the
Museum from an institution that spreads 'approved truth', to a space where
one is stimulated to draw one's own conclusion from conflicting viewpoints
on show. It is like using a good library and by searching for one subject
you will find a series of published sources which have different, often
conflicting interpretations of the same subject and study is needed to
form your own opinion. Such an approach will stimulate the public to get
out of its passive consumer role, its will force the curators to go beyond
their single minded interpretations.

Now the reality of the Internet shows some of these ideas, though often in
a very confusing way. A question to a so-called 'search engine' will
generate a multitude of options, but the unstructured character of such a
search often means that what could have been useful is lost in the pile of
hardly relevant references that also formally matched the search criteria
used. A virtual museum on the Net could in this way well be invisible. A
crisp definition of 'virtual' is 'in effect but not in fact'. I think that
a museum just on the Net is a too limited idea, that the Internet could be
part of another structure of more tangible objects or places were Internet
a museum just on the Net is a too limited idea, that the Internet could be
part of another structure of more tangible objects or places were Internet
access to a specific site or groups of sites is made possible. So a
network of more or less public spaces (galleries, cyber cafes, cultural
centers, spaces within existing musea, libraries and archives) were
'dramatization of information' through the use of interactive devices is
realized. Also there could be a combination of content made available
through the Internet with input and output devices that would be much more
dramatic and much more spatial than a computer screen with a keyboard and
a mouse.

This symposium states in one of its text that there is a need for drawing
the future and the past closer together. I would say that we need to
rethink our concept of time. Overcome the narrow-minded view that we as
humans evolved from a primitive to a higher developed stage, that there
are inferior and superior cultures. Primitivism is very much an element of
our age (think of the trance dance sub-culture in the West), there are
many examples of very high elaborate structures, within what was long
presented as a lower phase of development of the human race. The massive
interest at the end of the twentieth century in the occult, in myth, in
all kind of expressions of the super-natural, are sign of re-occurrence of
the same ideas over centuries, of non-linear history. The New Age industry
might be for a great part extremely superficial and commercialized, it
remains that the interest for this kind of subjects and phenomena with the
broad public is genuine. This non-linear approach towards history can be a
fruitful way of approach for using the electronic media. Instead of an
attitude that everything is newer than new and that the electronic media
do not have a past and should just blindly point at the future, an
attitude whereby inspiration for the electronic media both on the content
and interface level is taken from the past, whereby high technology is
combined with low technology. Instead of the 'effect driven multi media'
with its urge to be the most modernistic and futuristic, a more content
oriented multi media, that has something to communicate beyond the
flashing electronic effects of modern machinery.

To have more content in multi-media, a great barrier has to be overcome
that I can only point at briefly... It is the question of the claims of
ownership of human products, be it authorship, copyright, or the multitude
of protective devices established by modern industry. Without denying any
author some income from his work, one can see that in the hands of big
industry most of the positive ideas that might be linked to copyright have
been perverted. Our cultural heritage is not only endangered by urban
blight, air pollution, economical neglect and the like, but also by the
attempts at worldwide control and exploitation of image, sound, text,
genes and whatever might come into the hands of the law industry...
When one would project the principles of nowadays copyright back into
human history we would not have Baroque music (an example of heavy
sampling and quoting), folk songs would have been standardized, woven
patterns fixed, poetry regimented and the distribution of printed works
severely limited. The advocates of aggressive modern copyright sometimes
point back into European history to find early examples of the need and
usage of copyright. They often forget to mention that these rights were
always for a limited time (five to ten years) and that in most cases
copyright only came into being because of the needs of Kings, Popes and
others that reigned to control the content of the printed word.
So new creative ways of 'fair use', the right to quote, the right to
comment, are needed. After all culture is made by many, the elitist point
of view whereby only the great masters are pointed out, is a denial of how
human creativity evolves.

Tjebbe van Tijen, Tokyo 30/4/98

Curator, librarian and artist
Founder of the Center for the Documentation of Modern Social Movements at
the University of Amsterdam (1973), now at the International Institute of
Social History, Amsterdam. Recent exhibitions: 'Orbis Pictus Revised'
(with Milos Vojtechovsky) for Medienmuseum ZKM Karlsruhe, National Museum
Prague, Society for Old and New Media in Amsterdam (1994-1996).
'Neo-Shamanism' installation for the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam
(1997) and for the NTT/ICC Gallery in Tokyo (1998)

Initiator of the 'OCCASIO, digital social history archive' for the
International Institute of Social History, a project that preserves
endangered electronic materials relevant for the study of social history
for future generations.

Relevant literature: 'Ars Oblivivendi', about the construction of the
social memory system, written for the Ars Electronica festival in 1996
Occasio project:
Tjebbe van Tijen/Imaginary Museum Projects
using the Antenna and NLnet Internet Services

Tjebbe van Tijen
Imaginary Museum Projects, Amsterdam
fax +31-20-6261897
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