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The Laboratory Concept. The Path to the Forum: The Humboldt Lab Dahlem

The principle of an open, searching work attitude that is also clear about its requirements and goals, determined the experiments at the Humboldt Lab. Due to the process of planning the Humboldt-Forum, there wasn’t much time available, and there was enormous pressure to achieve useful results. Because of this situation, it was often difficult to see the Lab as a complex, yet organic whole, while communicating this to the outside, as well. Even the Probebühnen only opened up a prospect of individual sections, questions and results.

The desire to once again critically analyze and discuss the results of the Lab’s four years has to be considered in front of this backdrop.

This is why the exhibition “The Laboratory Concept. The Path to the Forum: The Humboldt Lab Dahlem” once more presented all of the projects developed and realized in the Lab. Our ambition was to make it possible to grasp the myriad, heterogeneous presentations and events as a whole, and to synthesize it all, in the sense of a ‘laboratory concept’. In the final exhibition, various elements of past installations – including media, components from each presentation, and tables with documentation – evoked partly planned, partly evolved modules of individual approaches and products.

The profound questions (“Is everything stolen?”) as well as the apparently trivial ones (“Why are labels always too small?”), which propelled the Lab forward, were prominently identified. A video installation gave a voice to the Humboldt Lab’s external and internal protagonists; in interviews, they described their experiences at the Lab, along with their ambitions and visions for the Humboldt-Forum. The effects of the Lab’s work on the designs for the museum exhibitions in the palace were visualized in large-scale plans. Objects from the collections used in all of the Lab projects made it clear that the museums concentrate on mediating the evidence of material culture, as well as on their ability to tell the world about it.

One result of the final exhibition was a series of new questions. The most important one is, what will the Humboldt Forum take from the “Laboratory Concept”, and how much room will there be for a permanent exploration of the new institution’s conditions and goals? Inevitably, only the future can answer these questions – but the search for them must begin now.

Translated by Allison Moseley



The Humboldt Lab Dahlem and the Museum Planning Process for the Humboldt-Forum

The two upper levels of the Humboldt-Forum in the new Berlin Palace will provide 17,000 m2 of exhibition space for the collections of the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst. The goal is to arrange the rooms in such a way that they provide an attractive mix of topics, objects, and exhibition arrangements.

The African, American and Oceanic collections, as well as the ethnomusicology collection, will be displayed on the second floor, while the third floor will be devoted to Asian culture and art. The individual rooms, and in some cases sections of rooms, will focus on specific topics; once the Humboldt-Forum is open, these will be regularly updated and changed.

The planning of the two museum floors is progressing in stages. The enlarged floor plans show the current status at the end of the draft design stage. At this point, most of the decisions regarding the (thematic) arrangement of the objects have already been made and the scenography has been planned. In the next stage, the designs will be more detailed and ready for implementation.

The Humboldt Lab Dahlem is involved in the planning process in a variety of ways. The involved academics, the working group responsible for design (Ralph Appelbaum Associates / malsyteufel), as well as the central administrative body of the Humboldt-Forum have raised a number of issues about content and scenography, many of which are being addressed by the Humboldt Lab. Other Humboldt Lab projects deal with specific aspects and building blocks of the exhibitions in the Humboldt-Forum, for which preliminary and feasibility studies are being developed. Finally, the Humboldt Lab deals with issues relating to specific strategies and processes - such as the inclusion of contemporary artists.

Accordingly, the Humboldt Lab takes a variety of approaches in its work - sometimes very targeted and concrete, at other times more subtle and with a broader scope. A crucial point is that while the Humboldt Lab Dahlem frequently draws on the expertise of external experts, it also incorporates museum staff, who is involved both in the exhibition planning and in the Humboldt Lab. The experiences and results of the Humboldt Lab can thus be incorporated into the manifold efforts to successfully establish both museums in the Humboldt-Forum.

The floor plan attempts to delineate this complex approach. The individual Humboldt Lab projects are either connected to particular exhibition modules or they address general exhibition issues.

This text was part of “The Laboratory Concept” and explained the following images: “Floorplans of the exhibition layout of the second and third storeys of the Humboldt-Forum showing input from the Humboldt Lab Dahlem (Status: June 2015)” which were displayed in the exhibition magnified to a greater size, filling an entire wall. Copyright images: Stiftung Berliner Schloss – Humboldtforum, Franco Stella with FS HUF PG, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Ralph Appelbaum Associates / malsyteufel, res d, Humboldt Lab Dahlem.