Why a Museum of the Future now, in Mexico
This is a guest post from Kate Balug, an artist and producer of cultural urban projects. Her current research includes an examination of critical imagination as a tool to redefine urban paradigms, intervention at various scales in under-resourced communities, public life, mapping, and youth agency. She is a collaborator with Social Agency Lab.
In 1968, the future arrived in Mexico. Through a coordinated effort of over 250 designers, artists, writers, architects, photographers, and other creative, young, international individuals, the design strategy for the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City served needs well beyond the sporting event. The organizers, headed by architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, developed a fantastic strategy that introduced Mexico City as a modern city both locally and internationally. The graphic designers employed icons and bold colors for both the subtle purposes of branding and practical information-rich way finding features for a Spanish-illiterate audience. The campaign was pervasive throughout the City, with billboards and other elements positioned to remind residents of the upcoming Olympics hundreds of times a day, the construction of modern stadiums, and the development of a cultural corridor of public sculptures along the City’s peripheral highway. Modern Mexico was announced to the world through global advertising of the Games, and through the strong cultural program co-presented with the famed sporting events for the first time.
Mexico had overcome enormous obstacles to become Olympic host, from being the first developing country to host the Games, to deep concerns over the City’s high altitude. Further, Mexico’s position at the helm of contemporaneity came at a turbulent time in both local and world history, leading to various protests against the Games in general, and against the participation of particular countries. 1968 marked a year of global paradigm shifts: protests fueled by the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and civil, workers’ and students’ rights uprisings led masses throughout the globe to oppose oppressive regimes and reframe priorities, often suffering violent repercussions. Democracy was taken to task that year, its shortcomings exposed globally. On October 2 in Mexico, just 10 days before the games were to begin, a peaceful gathering of 10,000 students in a large plaza in the modernist housing complex Tlatelolco ended in a pre-determined massacre, leaving hundreds dead at the hands of the “Olympic Brigade.” The Tlatelolco massacre was a boiling point for the ongoing student protests in Mexico City that demonstrated the state of government oppression in the country. News of what actually happened that October 2 did not surface until more than 30 years later. The reports in 1968 that claimed that the attack was prompted by the protestors are now known to be untrue. The order to shoot had been given by the Presidential offices.
Today, the conflicted memory of 1968 brings to the minds of most Mexicans the powerful Olympics graphics simultaneously with the painful images of Tlatelolco. Meanwhile, the world again finds itself at a crossroads in 2011 into 2012, the likes of which have been unseen since the late ‘60’s. Protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Spain, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in the United States, and protests in Russia continue to expand even when violence erupts. In the US, it remains to be seen whether forceful political reaction against protestors will increase to the point of murder, aided by new policies limiting freedoms of speech and assembly. That no simple message exists was a conscious decision on the part of the OWS movement’s collaborators, foreshadowing attempts by the US media to twist, turn, and invert any perceived goals, to confuse the previously apathetic public. The truth is that the conditions for the average American have greatly deteriorated over the last decades, while the upper echelons of society have become exponentially better off. The political system has become enmeshed with economic interests, leading to a marriage detrimental to all but the famed top percent. Like the revolutionary separation of church and state proposed by Thomas Jefferson, the time has come to separate the state from the market. No single demand can adequately address this fundamentally ideological issue without oversimplifying its practical implications.
The concerns in Mexico are linked to those in the US. Drug-related corruption supported by US demand reigns throughout the country, with either government increasingly unable to compete with the cartels in buying power or arms. In Mexico City, timeless issues such as equitable access to potable water and legitimate income occupy the minds and most days of millions of residents living in informally-constructed neighborhoods on the City’s peripheries. The class divide remains ingrained in the Mexican psyche, to the point that many ongoing city-led improvements focus on already well-served areas. These realities, along with the political sway toward capital-rich priorities, lead to a potentially bleak future; one not much better than the present. The Presidential candidates for the 2012 elections pledge grandiose improvements, but the Mexican audience appears wary of such demonstrations after years of broken promises – and systems.
However, in addition to bringing more residents’ quality of life up to 21st century standards and fighting government corruption, there is a new element on the City’s agenda: since the period of 70 years of PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) rule ended in 2006, City officials increasingly approach notions of participatory governance and democratic processes. The beginnings of this process are awkward, and with often unimpressive and costly results, such as the little-attended citywide “Consultas Ciudadanas” (tr. Citizen Consultation) held periodically. Predictability, even if lacking, are more secure than unknown potentialities to a public with so few resources available. The systems of corruption, coercion, and self-reliance are so prevalent in Mexico after years of essentially dictatorial rule that both government and public are hesitant to jump into any collaborative engagement.
Museo del Futuro (Museum of the Future)
However, what these budding changes signify could be a new era. The experiemental Museum of the Future inserts itself into this reality as a critical institution. The Museum looks to the year 2068 as a marker, an opportunity to imagine what Mexico City looks like 100 years after the memorable events of 1968 in Mexico City and worldwide. It operates as a vehicle to generate and collate creative proposals from the public regarding the future of the city and its institutions. Through the Museum, we construct a collaboratively developed story of what local future priorities should be in Mexico City, working with members of the public to engage and learn from their imagination. The first step to changing existing conditions is the ability to imagine an alternative, improved reality. With the Museum, we aspire to make this type of imagination a more common practice among its residents in the public spaces of the city. And then “re-applicate” the process throughout the world with help from local actors.
The project is inspired by contemporary artistic practice involving the public in urban environments, theories of institutional critique, and by LeFebvrian ideology of visioning toward a just city, and developed as action research. Museum activities consider Mexico City realities at three scales: individual, community, and regional, and loosely follow a participatory planning process.
(Individual) The process begins with interactive street performances by two time-traveling curators from the Museum of the Future in 2068. The two were sent on a mission to visit 2011/2012, to inform an upcoming exhibit about these historic years. However, their time machine crashed upon landing, and the impact caused amnesia in the time travelers. In this condition, they take to the streets, asking the public to help them reconstruct the memory of their reality in 2068, and looking for support in reconstructing their time machine.
(Community) The time machine, whose role is also to house a mobile museum, is recreated through a competition model from the future: local cultural groups and university students collaborate to design and build the structure, using their competitive skills toward a better shared construction. The structure, built of present-day elements, becomes a time capsule of today’s building materials and imaginations, and employs the building block of a water bottle to collect personal wishes of visitors. These serve as time capsules by individual contributors. However, unlike typical time capsules, they are immediately viewable by museum-goers so that the visions they contain are accessible daily rather than saved for a distant future.
(Region) The mobile museum exhibition presents a particular perspective on present-day Mexico City through the eyes of the Museum’s curators and a collaboratively developed image of 2068, resulting from the street performances. Prior to returning home to 2068, the curators take the mobile museum on tour through the city, stopping in distinct neighborhoods around the metropolis. At each stop, local cultural groups perform or otherwise demonstrate their own takes on the city’s future, and the public has an opportunity to respond to the story created from fellow residents’ ideas. After the tour, the second round of public input is used to modify the story of Mexico City in 2068, and the final collective vision is delivered to the City’s political leaders as a document that captures residents’ desires and priorities for the future.
Objective / Mission
The objective of Museo del Futuro is to ignite public imagination and participation through an experimental framework. Its mission is to capture collective visions of possible futures of particular urban environments, while proposing a new institutional typology that fosters such collaborative, constructive imagination among the city’s diverse residents.
The Museum of the Future and its virtual platform function as a place for reflection about the desired future of the city, and a mirror to critically examine the present in light of memories of the past.
Get to know our curators from the future at www.facebook.com/museodelfuturo, @museodelfuturo, or email us firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the project and explore how it could grow in your community. Our website will launch soon: www.museodelfuturo.com.
Project collaborators include architects, urbanists, sociologists, and artists, including Dr. Héctor Castillo Berthier and his group Circo Volador, architect Iván Hernández Quintela, architect/planner Laura Janka Zires, MIT DUSP student Jessica Garz, and artist Jorge Navarro.