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Funny Thought / Positions

A Utopian Installation on Times and Spaces

by Peter Funken

More than 300 years after Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’ "fantastical" texts were published, Andreas Pinkow shows how the idea of a world-exhibition may have looked and functioned, in his installation "Funny Thought," utilizing aesthetic and technical tools of the 21st century. It is a digital homage, in which images and fantastical worlds of the 17th century can be explored interactively.

As though viewed through an oversize microscopic eye we look into a three-dimensional space, affording us insights into complex layers of depth when we move in front of this installation. The latter is meant literally, because only when the visitor actually moves hands, arms or the entire body, in reaction to the images, giving gestural instructions, does the screen content move and change, resulting in ever new layers and levels in the projection. Once one enters the game, it is like being pulled into an event that begins perspectively but soon disintegrates in order to rearrange itself into a new form.

But what are we, when we enter the "Wunderkammer" ("Chamber of Wonders") of the 21st century and deliver ourselves into its hands? Travellers in space and time, or actually part of the artwork, a more or less intelligent prosthesis of the image machine "Funny Thought" which, via digital technology and back projection, illustrates how the world was being imagined toward the end of the 17th century? Are we mere appendages of a fascinating game, or virtually god-like creatures, freed of the limitations of physics? As an active party, one will certainly find oneself in a process of realization. Because in addition to the continually newly generating image-worlds of the projections, the exhibition also offers written orientation in the world of knowledge since Leibniz: on the wall adjacent to the projection machine there is a large information board. Here is an index of relevant keywords, thematizing the future Humboldt-Forum project, as well as its prerequisites in terms of the humanities and natural sciences. The alphabetically ordered keywords begin with "Akademie der Wissenschaften" and end with "Work in Progress." The terms elucidate the Leibniz universe as well as the Humboldt-Forum project or the Humboldt Lab in the Dahlem Museums. The index lists and connects basic research terms coined since Leibniz and Humboldt – for example the terms "Travel," "Collecting," and "Curiosity,"– with significant figures from the early Enlightenment, as well as countries (e.g. "China") and scientific methods ("Experiment," and "Correspondence"). The core of the index consists of the historical "Drôle de Pensée" as draft plan for an enlightening and joyful utopia.

With its interactive installation and index, the exhibition team connects the scientific and popular ideas from the past to the future of the Humboldt-Forum. The historical utopia "Funny Thought" as future-orientated idea of the late 17th century serves as the reference point. And in this technically advanced and aesthetically convincing installation it is given an appropriate contemporary representation. In the interface between the historical and the contemporary, a new perspective for the future is opened up, where perhaps a more holistic view of the world, art and the sciences is again possible – a new form of the universal – which Leibniz, in his time, still had at his disposal.

The Berlin-based author Dr. Peter Funken has been working as an exhibition concept developer since 1983.

Funny Thougt / Quote

“The presentations could, for example, be a magic lantern (one could begin with that), as well as flights, artificial meteorites, all kinds of optical marvels, a representation of the heaven and the stars. Comets. A globe like that of Gottdorf or Jena; fireworks, fountains, vessels of strange shapes, mandrakes and other rare plants. Extraordinary and rare animals. The Royal manège. Mythical animals. The royal horse race automaton. Prizes. Recreations of acts of war (…) Extraordinary concerts. Rare musical instruments. Talking trumpets. Hunt. Lusters and imitation jewels. The presentation could at any time be combined with a number of tales or comedies. Theater of nature and art. Fighting, swimming. Extraordinary tightrope dancers. Salto mortale. Demonstration of how a child can lift a heavy weight with a single thread. Anatomical theatre. Medicinal herb garden. Later also a laboratory. Because in addition to the public presentations there will be special ones, like those of small calculating machines and others, paintings, medals, libraries. (…)”

Quote from: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Drôle de Pensée, touching on a new kind of REPRESENTATION <or rather: Palace of Games> September 1675, translated into German by Horst Bredekamp, in: Horst Bredekamp, Die Fenster der Monade. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’ Theater der Natur und Kunst, Berlin 2004; translated from the German into English by Galina Green.