Mischievous Museum (1997)

A museum that creates its own taxonomy daily... and reorders its contents nightly

A proposal by Usman Haque and Tom Holdom - a museum composed of mischievous filing cabinets, which constantly reorder their contents and rearrange themselves, offers visitors the chance to reinterpret historical categorisations. The museum changes structure throughout the day and visitors are invited to contribute to the exhibition. Readings of the building and its contents are therefore always unique -- no two visitors share the same experience.

Mischievous Museum reordering its contents

1. The context

In the same way that a curator (historically) orders an exhibition, so too does the architect the control movements within a building. The placing of artifacts, as with architectural elements, limits the possible readings. The museum presented here confronts this by constantly reordering its contents, allowing visitors an opportunity to reinterpret historical categorisation.

Visitor wandering the collection

2. The proposal

Objects are stored in specially prepared self-organising filing cabinets which both protect them and allow them to be reordered and reclassified according to the whims of the system.

The filing cabinet stacks are ordered according to the storage conditions of the objects in the collection:

  • size
  • storage temperature
  • lighting requirements

This system has no historical associations and allows viewers continually to reinterpret the objects and their presumed histories -- they create personal associations.

Filing cabinets moving in 3 dimensions

There is no classification of the universe that is not arbitrary and conjectural... it is written that animals are divided into...

  • (a) those that belong to the emperor
  • (b) embalmed ones
  • (c) those that are trained
  • (d) suckling pigs
  • (e) mermaids
  • (f) fabulous ones
  • (g) stray dogs
  • (h) those that are included in this classification
  • (i) those that tremble as if they were mad
  • (j) innummerable ones
  • (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush
  • (l) others
  • (m) those that have just broken a flower vase
  • (n) those that resemble flies from a distance."

-- J. Borges, Other Inquisitions

Filing Cabinets are self-propelled by magno-levitation. They are mischievous and wander around the building, either as part of a stack or individually when they receive the 'entropic' urge.

Filing cabinet drawers

Viewer begins search, encounters a wandering filing cabinet and leaves behind leftover sandwiches. The viewer is then hyperlinked via wormhole to another part of the museum and creates new connections and associations.

The viewer may find a Roman Coin in the same cabinet which houses a collection of butterflies, or a hole punch, or a painting by William Orpen.