Joint Project with Sofia Karim
The brief called upon us to design a museum of the body which both challenged preconceptions of how information may be presented and invited more ambitious use of digital media and communications. In response to this we decided that the museum annexe should be completely virtual, experienced via the Internet and yet remain navigable as a three dimensional space.
We also had a proposal for the site provided (Leith Docks, Edinburgh) which consisted of an enigmatic, sculptural advertisement for the virtual museum. The Fissure, as it was called, was essentially a rift in the ground across the site symbolising the meeting of real and virtual. The Fissure contained a network of monitors randomly showing the experiences of logged-on users navigating the virtual museum. The screens either were active or dormant, depending on the number of users inside the museum. In this way, The Fissure served as a barometer of activity. The Fissure was to be just one example of many installations that appeared globally as the virtual museum expanded.
The first space that the users of the virtual museum encountered was entitled The Hub, since it was the central space from which all exhibition sites could be accessed. The Hub comprised an ever-expanding construction of platforms, ramps and scaffolding self-generated by the museum. The analogy was to bodily growth, how simple building blocks are used in increasing numbers and in increasing complexity to build up the entirety. Thus as exhibition sites were added to the museum, The Hub reaches "critical mass" and builds itself a new part in which to house its "portal" or gateway. The Hub became a living, expanding matrix in which the portals to exhibition sites were suspended. Users, arriving at a random point within The Hub, navigated around this potentially infinite space in order to find an exhibition site. In this way, users could not exercise prejudice in what information they saw, and no two visits would be the same. Exhibition sites would be continually added by institutions, companies and individuals pertaining to the subjects of body art and science, the only constraint being that the site should be spatial. The intention was to entertain as well as educate.
As an example of what an exhibition site might be like, we designed a space to house an exhibition on prosthetics. In contrast to the vast agoraphobia inducing space of The Hub, the prosthetics space was enclosed and intense, as the user passed down a narrow structure upon which exhibits are clamped, inhibiting movement. The contrast between the structure and the clamped on objects was to suggest the idea of increasing mobility through the addition of "artificial" parts and the relationship of static versus dynamic. Interacting with the objects revealed information in various media, such as text, music, pictures, animation and film.
This project was for the design of a museum of body technologies which was to function as a remote annexe to a major science museum. The museum would house multimedia installations pertaining to the emerging technologies, robotics, and cosmetic surgery. As the site was far from the main museum there were also opportunities to explore relationships between architecture, communications networks and information resources. There was also the possibility that many "visitors" would never attend the museum in person, but only electronically through the Internet, or its successor.
The body featured as the main theme of the project, a theme that was progressively transformed to become one of attitude. As well as suggesting a mental view or opinion, "attitude" suggests bodily posture, pose, disposition or orientation.
The idea of "virtual architecture" participates in the issue of attitude, not least in its attempts to find release from the constraints of the body, ecstasis. The metaphors depicting the ephemerality of cyberspace commonly invoke notions of flying, floating through space, progressing through successive layers of enlightenment, as commonly depicted in cyberspace fiction. These two students developed their museum in "virtual space" a space that one visits through putative virtual reality equipment in one's own home or elsewhere. The first space the students developed consisted of an expanding scaffold of information, that grows as the network expands. The initial concept was of a space that one could fly through, but it soon became apparent that the posture befitting such a space involved curling up on one of the precarious platforms, a common response to vast and vertiginous spaces. These reflections induced the construction of a second space accessible through "gateways" in the matrix of the scaffold. Unlike the expanding nature of the first space, this space is built up of grafts of mechanical components, accretions that increasingly hem one in, analogous to accretions of information and knowledge (and also bodily grafts and prosthetics). This space is confined and cramped, pertaining to the bodily comportment of breaking out and resistance. Of course the features of each space can be found in the other, and the museum is effectively a play between the two: the agoraphobic and the claustrophobic.