Ideas for Museums: a Biography of Museum Computing. The first virtual museum in Russia
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Ideas for Museums: a Biography of Museum Computing. The first virtual museum in Russia


In the mid-1990s, I made a big exhibition
in the Tretyakov Gallery, named “Primitive in Russia”. The exhibition covered the period
from the 18th to the early 20th century. I had a plan to continue this work
(in the chronological sense), i. e. to make another exhibition
about the 20th century. But I left the Tretyakov Gallery
and went to work for a research institute, so this plan wasn’t implemented. Then I decided that what I had done in real life
could be continued in a virtual space. This was one aspect. Another aspect was the fact
that in many countries of the world, there were real museums of primitive painting. However, Russia didn’t have any museum of this kind,
and, as far as I know, it still doesn’t. So the first idea was to make a prank, as if there was a museum of primitive in Russia,
as if it had a building, employees… To play such a joke. However, when we started working, it became clear that it was far more interesting not to make
a museum that pretends to exist, but to create a museum that doesn’t
and couldn’t possibly exist. If you take a careful look at the website, you will see that a number of things there
are impossible in real life. For example, look at the floor plans, at 3D,
at the staircases between the floors. Everything is designed so that it can’t be true. This way, we started developing
the second possibility: to play a museum that can only
exist in a computer form. Then the story became even more amusing. An all-Russian website award was announced —
this was very popular in the 1990s. The rules provided that websites were nominated
for the awards not by the authors, but by regular Internet users. Authors only had to give their formal consent. And I received a letter saying,
“You are nominated, unless you object”. Thousands of websites competed in the awards. And we ended up in the top five. This was all very funny. Why? Because both the jury
and the awards organizers fell for the prank the website
scenario was based on. Because they put us not in the
“Art” or “Media art” category, but in the “Museums” category. We ended up in the category where we were
to compete with the Hermitage, the Kunstkamera, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. With the four largest museums. The Hermitage became
the rightfully deserved winner. So, there we are — all the three authors
of this website — sitting in the state chamber, and the Hermitage representative comes
on the stage to get the award and says, “We, the whole staff of the Hermitage, who took part
in the creation of this website in one way or another, would like to thank also the hundreds of the IBM
Company employees who have developed it”. So there were three of us against them. At that moment, I understood a very
important thing: if we three can compete in complete earnest with the entire
Hermitage and IBM to boot, this means that we are in the area where the result is determined not by
the amount of resources, but by the brain. There is an interesting problem
all projects face, including web projects. When the project is completed —
what do we do with it? I presented my project to the State
Russian House of Folk Arts, so that they could cover all their
ongoing exhibition activities. A “Club” section appeared at the website. It is managed by the SRHFA employees.
They also maintain the website. It mainly features information about
their ongoing activities and exhibitions related to contemporary naïve art. That is, I just gave the website to those
for whom it could be a work tool. Virtual museums are often
designed under the principle “We will show you a museum
you can’t see in real life”. This refers to different things,
including technological tricks — for example, how this room would look through the eyes
of a fly crawling across the ceiling lamp. However, this also refers to far
deeper things, to the contents. For instance, what happens
behind the “Staff only” doors? Moreover, real museums have another problem that can be solved by modern technological means. It is the problem of demonstrating objects
that cannot be placed in an exhibition. For example, an operating blast furnace,
an erupting volcano, and so on.

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