Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 8#1 Kai Hoffmann, Frank Druschel 1 Jan 1994

The European Computer Museum sends Tidings of...

Jurassic Park has returned the dinosaurs to us. Some months ago there was an exhibition of these veterans of primeval time in the German town of Hildesheim, one which could not be missed.
What is so fascinating about them? Is it their inconceivable size, the roughness of nature or the pure pleasure of our own fantasy?


The European Computer Museum sends tidings of... -

In front of me is a little, soft, toy dinosaur, looking at me meaningfully with its stud-eyes. MTV is on TV and the computer is beclouding me with its monotonous murmuring. I begin to dream of the South Seas and life's temptations.

Surfing on a hyper-interlaced surface, gliding across galactic data planes armed with a silicone lance. When I touch the objects whirling around me with my lance I find myself placed in the middle of coloured cascades and, removed from time-space, I am able to abandon myself to phantasmagoria.

Have you ever thought about the use of and sense in fitness studios? While looking for a hotel in Hanover, I stumbled by chance across such a forge of physical training, and found myself drawn in by the steam of the machine-people. Any desire I had in further searching for pleasure was soon gone. The taste in my mouth was rough and stale: this environment of machine and steel, without data and networks, was cold and cruel.

What is left to stimulate man these days? Do we always have to cover ourselves with even more work, with the result that we fail to recognise the essential?

I dream the dream of hovering data technology. Hovering computers arrange themselves in ever new shapes and patterns, objects in space and time. I have exchanged the fitness studio for mainframe transportation, and hovering computers are sometimes more real than anything which flickers daily across the screens of this earth.

One evening we found ourselves somewhere in the Saarland region, arriving after a long search at a place with an unpronounceable name. We had again been sent out on behalf of the museum (we have the licence for soldering), and this time it was a small IBM which was awaiting us. It turned out, after we had first found it under a heap of planks and other detritus, to be a special model

It made wonderful eyes at us, and I could practically hear it imploring us to finally get it out of this offensive place. At the same time it did not know if its new home would really be a better one. Life is indeed full of surprises. But what do you do when there are only two of you and the computer weighs around 400 kg and has to be manoeuvred over a height of 50 cm into a van?

Let us change country. In the middle of the Himalayan plateau, two monks are sitting motionless, immersed in deep meditation, surrounded by breath-taking beauty. They are struggling for strength and enlightenment.

But what should one do in their view when one opens ones eyes again to discover that we are in reality in the Saarland and that this thing, our wonderful special model, still hasn't moved one millimetre from its spot? A beam, a block and tackle and just try not to think too much about what you are about to do.

It really was hovering. It was an elevating feeling and we can now say proudly: One more in our collection ranging from ... to ...

The case is clear: so-long fitness studio. We can manage without.

Meanwhile our idea, which emerged originally from the desire to make music, has grown into a vast, humming pile of metal plates, sheets, bars and wires. Help -- are we past saving? We are now ourselves drifting in the network of systems captured in the data cellar of our university. Space is the cue. Election slogan 1994: unemployed computer looking for ... or: computers also have a right to be cared for in their old age.

But what is there really about our museum? Do you too find Mandelbrot graphics kitschy, or are you one of the generation that dies laughing at old calculators? Everyone is welcome here: cynics, friends of elaborate programmes, those who would simply like to enter a new, but temporally outdated territory of computer history.

We are attempting to keep them alive, these modern-age dinosaurs, a small excerpt from the transitoriness of our society. I would never claim to know how to handle every apparatus. I am fascinated by the fact that it was actually possible to build such complex machines, and that there are indeed people who could work with them every day.

The computer kids will for sure double up with laughter at so much nostalgia, but one gains a little respect when such a calculator is indeed connected up to the (electricity) network and serves over 200 terminals simultaneously.

We want to create a museum we can touch, experiment and play with, marvel at. But we still have a long way to go. We are at present residing on the grounds of the small university of Hildesheim. Our cellar vaults are so inadequate that we have had to put some of our best equipment unused in the warehouse of a firm in Hanover, warm and dry. We are searching for a room in the vicinity of Hildesheim, even better Hanover. We shall certainly soon clamp it onto the network, making it available to all data surfers. What we have planned is all rather complex, but feasible with the help of a lot of people. It is not a matter of creating yet another stronghold in the established museum landscape; our data must be active and touchable, the aesthetics of the old calculators should be visible to all.

Former graphic programmes are to depict one of the focal points in the museum, slowscan processes, perhaps also showing the connection between computer and 16 mm film as well as video image processing. We have not of course forgotten our initial desire for music. Computer-generated music and computer-supported performances are to be developed in the museum and thence to the general public.

Where, in the new museums, is tribute really paid to speed? No area of technology is subjected to such an enormous, fast-moving pace as computer technology. Computers are there to be used, only then can they fulfil their function. Our museum is located between design, aesthetics and technological transfer. We have only started a fraction of the way down the path to digitality. The possibilities of the normal computer user have not been exhausted by far. We want to try to depict that which has been possible up to now. We are in the midst of a development.

Connect everything together and you will understand the future (Negroponte, director, MIT Media Lab).

That which has been possible for a long time now in the USA should now be made possible in Europe. In Boston there is the computer museum, and in Europe there will be us.

In place of exhibitions and archive work, our museum will be a kind of laboratory, a workshop, a transmitter and receiver of information, a media bank. It is open to specialists, artists (whatever they may be) and the man in the street. Our museum is opening up to the present. The celebrating, isolated museum is the prevailing kind in the museum sector. Art-historical thinking dominates the museums. We must unfortunately note repeatedly that art historians cannot cope with the complexity of everyday life. Of course there are exceptions in this field. Do not forget the perfectly successful exhibitions such as those which could be seen within the framework of the Mediale

1 The Mediale was an international media festival that took place in 1993 in Hamburg, Germany

Dorner, museum director in Hanover, said a long time ago: The new museum must cease to be a temple of humanistic relics. It should be possible for it to show art just as it is, i.e. the product of a relatively brief phase of development and as part of a certain limited reality. It would therefore go over on its own to portraying the growth of reality and embedding visual production in this.

The break-up of the art form began with art informel, via tachisme and action painting, up to the Fluxus movement, and it is certainly not finished yet. Instead of going from media-man to mass-man, artistic man shows the potential contained in the New Media for interaction and constructive availability. We shall attempt to actively transpose these beginnings in our museum. And should at some stage a monitor break down, not to worry: we shall provide a replacement. You may forget any fears mainframes instil in you when you are here.

Thanks to the influence of computers, most people these days have become artists. Nowadays computer-generated graphics have the same status as children's pictures or Sunday painting within the closer social surroundings. Perhaps we are experiencing the renaissance of Sunday painting on the computer.

Wouldn't you like to exchange your antiquated living-room cupboard or that fashionable-kitschy wall painting for a computer from our museum? In our search for space we are trying everything. The idea of a person in single combat no longer corresponds to our present-day thinking. Do we not all tend towards a little interlacing? The complexity of personality we have developed requires more than a single body, more than a single continual presence could give us. Will we be able to accept the computer as an integral system? We can no longer imagine life without it, and who is willing to take a step backwards?

We are in the midst of a process of new behavioural forms and views, of exploring and trying out new relations to the world and to each other.

Where is the focal point of a creative system? Many will ask the same questions as they did at the beginning of video-art with Paik and Vostell. For some, our museum will be a first contact with computer-dinosaurs, for most however it will mean contact with a technology that reminds us of machines of a long forgotten age. We shall see whether the virtual world will indeed make reality superfluous.

With the emergence of the artistic use of satellites, Paik depicted a utopia in which it was no longer necessary to move from the spot. Everything is controllable from the home. Our environmental problems would be solved in one go. Pollution caused by transport and traffic would be drastically reduced, and the new jeans would be virtually presented by a model with body measurements corresponding to one's own, yet: what's the point of still wearing them?

Communication with the neighbour would take place on the screen. Would that cause the replacement of reality?

We think not, but ...

Reality (which one?) cannot be replaced by anything. What we want is to bring back the reality of a submerged world to you.

Infinite expanse, the... computer.

The electronic network provides artists with the first medium which is able to break through the limitations of space and time. In the final analysis, the limitation of individual intelligence, of countries and cultures. (Roy Ascot)

I don't need to first put on my coat to meet friends at the corner pub; I turn on the machine and I'm already there. The most important thing when using networks is respecting the traffic rules: never forget there's also a human being sitting on the other side.

Humane computers?

The success of our project depends essentially on the many-sided support of media-fanatics, interested people. Dance the data-boggle.

Too much information for too few people. There are still only two of us, lost in time and space, beside us a few after-work lunatics. We received many positive replies to our Christmas postcard action. If we were to accept all the machines, Hildesheim would be the first town with walls built of computers, not to mention their scrap parts. At the risk of repeating myself: Help, we are looking for rooms!

Out of the university into the cold water. Affiliating the museum with reality (CeBit Hanover, etc.) and at the same time with the university is one of our aims. Students of information studies can try out everything on our computers they always wanted to know about PASCAL (or VMS, RPG, OS/8).

We do not want to miss an opportunity in the super election year of 1994:

Give our computers a home.

At present we are to be found at the University of Hildesheim, in the cellar. Visitors should make contact personally with:

Kai Hoffmann

Hannoversche Str. 26

31134 Hildesheim

tel. +49 05121 512060

fax +49 05121 32212

Frank Druschel

Andreasstraße 3

31134 Hildesheim

tel. and fax +49 05121 38494
translation ANN THURSFIELD