Toward a People's Museum ?
H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. was created 1991 in response to a set of issues relating to multiculturalism, the representation of cultural Otherness, and globalization.
Part Gesamt-Experiment and part imaginary museum, H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. is an intrinsically pluridisciplinary project. It addresses issues of representation and reification, memory (individual and collective), identity and temporality. The project is based on collaborations with professionals from a wide range of disciplines: anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, art historians, critical theorists, detectives, forensic artists, actors, architects, models, writers, designers, computer programmers, scientists, psychics...
H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. is embodied in a variety of media, including archives, printed matter, audio and videos tapes, photos, installations, buildings and objects. Propositions generated by the project have particular relevance to the following issues:
I Imaging & Advertising (Stereotyping Internationally): the role of advertising in the process of representation and mythification of a society. By extension the function of images and stereoptypes in the social construction of identity and alterity.
II Museology and Ideology (Representing Multiculturally): the political, ethical and practical difficulties created for museums by the questioning of ethnocentrism and the demands for greater transparency concerning the historical circumstances of the collections. These difficulties affect the very functions of preservation, representation and legitimization traditionally associated with museums (anthropological museums in particular).
III Heritage and Memory (Remembering Cross-Culturally): the variety of conceptions pertaining to cultural heritage, its constitution and preservation. By extension, considering the variety of societal attitudes toward change and continuity, transience and permanence.
Primarily intended for the dubious task of representing human beings on an international scale, H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. is akin to a traditional portrait gallery. Its constituents (referred to as "portrait-products") are supermarket products the packaging of which features a realistic representation of a human being. These products are generally of a perishable nature. For any given product, a single specimen (packaging and contents) is entered in H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D., with the guaranty that it will never be replaced. The products are treated as unique individuals that have been reified through representation.
Reductio ad Absurdum, H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. is partly an attempt dealing with the difficulty inherent in the substitution of material culture (objects) for cultural agents (people) - as commonly practiced by anthropological museums. In the final analysis, it seems the only kind of cultural artifact that can legitimately be decontextualized in a museum is the commodity (given the "universality" of its relationship to the customer/viewer). Similarly, it seems the only kind of representation that can be utilized without creating new problems is that generated by advertising (given the transparency of its agenda). By conflating the two, one obtains the portrait-product, a powerful object of study at the intersection of several areas of contention and a suitable choice for the creation of an international collection. The perishable nature of the constituents implies the inevitable decay and disappearance of the collection. It results in a paradoxical enterprise of conservation.
These activities are carried out on three distinct levels outlined in the following manner:
the constituents (portrait-products) treated individually as reified beings.
the individuals (men, women, children) who, in real life, have sold their faces to the products (pets are not at this time taken into consideration).
the artificial lives (half-humans, half-objects) generated from the humanism of the commodity.
• Constituting and cataloguing an exhaustive collection, global by definition. This collection has two embodiments: one material and perishable (the physical constituents), the other virtual and evolving (a digital archive ). [A]
• Presentation of part of the collection to the public, in the traditional form of a portrait gallery. Actual portrait-products are hung directly on the wall, like masks. They stare back at the viewer, now objectified by the gaze of the commodity. [A]
• Construction of a hermetic museum in which portrait-products become their own public. A logical extension of the substitution of people by objects, the project introduces the idea of inter-passivity: H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. as an autonomous and self-sufficient international community. [A]
• Construction of a commemorative monument. A continuation of the previous proposal, this hermetic monument (museum/mausoleum) is designed to house the entire collection, for a period of one hundred years. The monument has a dual nature: it operates externally (visually) as an architectural sign of permanence and internally (mentally) as the space of transformation of a transitory nature. Once the hundred years confinement period is over, the monument is re-opened and made accessible to future generations. The surviving portrait-products act as witnesses to a by-gone era. [A]
• Computer simulation of an "intelligent" portrait gallery. This gallery incorporates in a virtual space the constituents of the collection. It is programmed to age the portrait featured on each packaging according to the length of time a portrait-product has spent in H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. The aging is made possible by an anthropometric technique of facial extrapolation. Starting with a single photograph, it enables one to predict the most likely evolution of a human face in time. This technology is frequently used by Intelligence services and was originally developed to facilitate the search for missing children. In the context of this portrait gallery, the aging takes place in real time and eternally. This permanent evolution goes on at the same time as the physical alteration of the perishable contents and the real-life aging of the original human models [B]. It constitutes a synthetic time dimension that extends the humanism of the commodity to its logical conclusion (and beyond). [A]
• Development of autonomous, self-consuming products. In much the same way the portrait-product substitutes itself for a sales person - by "talking" directly to the consumer - in this proposition, it also substitutes itself for the consumer, thereby perfecting its own economic cycle. The hermetic museum (in which product-portraits are the spectators of their own spectacle) doubles up as a hermetic supermarket, in which portrait-products are their own consumers. The double nature of the constituents (packaging/content) establishes a parallel with the body/soul dualism granted to human beings. The perishable nature of portrait-products is envisioned as a form of transcendence. The fact they are never replaced affords them the possibility of a "natural" end. [A]
• New product development: hybrid products are created by joining or fusing two or more portraits and by mixing the respective contents. Successful choices are motivated by three types of considerations: geopolitical (the national origin of the products), aesthetic (the qualities of the faces portrayed) and chemical (the compatibility of the ingredients -- Chemical Weddings). Taboo products constitute one possible outcome. [A]
• Establishment of a data base on the men, women and children who served as models for the portrait-products (Sub-Community). Biographical data is added to this information thereby contributing to the sociological dimension of the project: interviews are conducted with consenting individuals at regular intervals, over their entire life. They are also photographed with the intention of constituting an image bank. This human dimension contrasts the biographical time of an individual's life to the artificial time of fashion (that which determines the aesthetics and the reading of the packaging) and to the organic time of the perishable contents. In the long term, it allows for comparison with the results of the ongoing aging obtained synthetically. [B]
• The information obtained through the research outlined above enables the reviving of the portrait-products, with the voice of their real life models. Resuscitated ("de-reified") in such a fashion, they are encouraged to express themselves subjectively, and to communicate with each other, in their mother's tongue. The interactive installation We Are The World is an example of such a gathering. [A+B]
• Artificial Intelligence: logical extension of the commodity's humanizing tendencies and of its apparent autonomy. Generation of a Meta-Community of virtual personalities: a creature (both human and non-human) is programmed for each portrait-product according to its content, its looks, its social context and national origin. This constitutes a continuation of A+B in simulacra. [C]
• Desig of a virtual world to enable the flourishing of the Meta-Community's creatures. This world takes into consideration the non-human life forms of the commodity. It allows for constituents to interact (group behavior) and to evolve in time (by mutation and reproduction). These metamorphoses also imply natural languages (the native tongue and written words of each original portrait-product) and can lead to the creation of a new, hermetic, Esperanto.[C]
• Inventing an artificial death for the creatures. This built-in terminal condition enables members of the Meta-Community to cease to exist. A simplified version of the cycle affords the possibility of releasing these avatars as autonomous Tamagotchis. By extension, inventing a life after death for aliens and developing a suitable model of Artificial Spirituality. [C]
• Matrimony 2000: H.U.M.A.N.W.O.R.L.D. as a dating agency operating on the three levels previously defined: Community, Sub-Community, Meta-Community, in reality and fiction. New product development, dating and romance, mutations, text generation etc. The possibility of interaction between the three levels intensifies the creative potential of this activity. Indeed, an event taking place on one level can have implications at another level, and results obtained in one of the communities can induce experimentation in another. [A+B+C]