Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Use of space by museums and Industrial heritage - Hatto Fischer


Museums are not merely a question how space is used to tell a specific story, but museums themselves depict how mankind is traveling from old spaces to use of new spaces. For example, the overall orientation of wishing to preserve cultural heritage as implying archaeology and collecting artefacts of the ancient past has given way to a new orientation. Now visitors come to museums to experience industrial heritage or as Iris Reuther in Leipzig puts it, she shows visitors not the city hall or some traditional sites, but takes them to Plagwitz, the former industrial site being now converted into new use. By stepping outside the old work processes people can learn through the artistic interventions in these old spaces new forms of work. All this can be deemed as a cultural adaptation to the Information Society. This has been as well the case with Ruhr 2010 - Essen. During that year when European Capital of Culture, culture was used deliberately to transform the old industrial placec into new spaces for different kinds of cultural, social and economic activities.

Making use of space

Artists go literally wild when entering former industrial buildings, now empty, with merely autumn leaves having flown in through some of the now broken windows. Gone are the sounds when the factory was still working. Also forgotten are the many suffrages of those who had to work there under very hard conditions. One immediate association to use of space is what Carlos Fuentes would say in his novel 'Skin Exchange' when describing the intention of the architect who designed Theresienstadt. It was built especially to collect Jews prior to them being taken to Auschwitz. The overall structure had the clear distinction between the factory like design where the prisoners were kept and the master mansion directly outside the compound. Something similar existed in Auschwitz itself with the head of the camp enjoying a 'Herrenhaus' - master house - with garden and everything to be imagined at that time in terms of luxury and comfort.

Any sense for space must be sensitive to this human history within the confines of these buildings, industrial architecture standing out for numerous reasons and of interest since it goes far beyond a simple functional building. In many ways, these buildings still display how far architects were allowed to go outside the strict realm of mere functionality while the scale of it all exceeded quite often a simple human proportion.                



                                            An abandoned corridor

Consequently when talking about ideas about museums, one should not forget that museums are linked to the notion of being special places or rather spaces which have a special meaning.

There is Andre Malraux’s imaginary museum to underline the fact that everyone imagines a museum with a collection of one's favourite art works with one own work amongst them as part of a strive towards self-recognition or who one consideres to be worthy to share such a space.

Dealing with space is never easy and many artists would be over demanded by the size of the canvas Picasso used to paint the Guernica mural (7,8 x 3,5 m).

Herbert Distel noted that artists state only that they need space to exhibit their works, but never do they specify the size. Thus he went ahead and created the Museum of Drawers. It is the smallest museum in the world. He used a cupboard full of drawers which grandmother uses for her sewing utensils and granted to each artist, including May Ray, Picasso, Rothko, Beuys etc. one such tiny space. It has become one of the richest collection of art works of the sixties and seventies of the 20th century.

There is as well Maria Papadimitreou’s 'Temporary Autonomous Museum for All' (TAMA) which she created to show how Roma people have a different sense of space. That is already indicated by a pick-up truck functioning as extension of their bedroom. When urban planners heard about how Roma people use space, they realized this is something they have only dreamt about so far but could never realize within modern urban society, given all kinds of constraints but also lack of knowledge on how to use space.

One other important aspect can be demonstrated on hand of TAMA. For spaces, once used like museums by retaining a collection of things to keep memories alive, underline the need for working out a sense of continuity and meaning in life. Thus TAMA not only shows how Romas use space and objects in a very unconventional or different way to usual urban dwellers, but the lines of their spaces not defined by borders between private-public but rather drawn by a wish to extend simply outwardly all activities (e.g. bedroom extended out to the pickup truck) reveal a constant orientation around the intertwine between work and life. The Roma use space similar to Nomads. For both the outside world is more important than any withdrawal to inner spaces as if that could safeguard the personal identity and therefore would be linked to property, to something fixed, but something which has to be kept ready for not only living but demonstrative purposes towards others. That means the symbolic use of space differs greatly when there exists a freedom to live with the things surrounding oneself without necessarily having to claim them as if private property and only to be used by myself and no one else.

TAMA is interesting for another reason. It can reflect how differently space can be used when compared with how people convert their private spaces into museums insofar as they keep their collections of all kinds of items at home. The purpose is manifold but surely one design behind it all, and for sure this design can be unintentional as it is created over time, is to have a context of memory. Both the collection and use of space informs the dwellers about how their identities fared when they were outside that space. The experience made when stepping back in constitutes the contrast to that other world and even other 'self' not visible all the time but which comes out only once left alone to enjoy these most intimate moments when the self reveals itself without fear to be laughed at or rejected. Working with these memories to keep the personal identity both safe and alive is a life understood best as a working our of solutions. Based on experiences made, and stories thereof told and more so retained in various ways, it allows a kind of constant assessment insofar it depicts as well by discovery of what has been left out so far to what one can look forward to.

By putting things in place, orders are depicted and meanings overhauled. Objects on shelves provide clues for hidden meanings. It could be a little stone taken from the Agora in Athens. These are bridges over time and allow the reconstruction of the past with the help of these objects to kindle the imagination.

                                  Shelves of TAMA by Maria Papadimitreou (1)


A new type of interlocutor between economy and culture: museums and use of space

Corporate museums are becoming more and more important as of late. It is another way of self advertising and shows how commercial enterprises have started to branch out into the cultural sector. Linked to that is a strategy called 'branding'. It is an outcome of how companies sought to gain in profile by altering their advertising strategy e.g. United Colours of Benetton made a further name for itself by using highly provocative photographs of e.g. an Aids victim.

A good example is the Corporate museum Mercedes Benz build to show case the history of its car manufacturing. It means to extend the very notion of customer or consumer of its products into one with an active interest in the evolution and innovation of the car over time. Naturally this extends itself as well to Mercedes Benz sponsoring racing cars for Formula 1 etc. For a product is desired if associated with all kinds of meanings, and not just as being technically reliable, efficient and sturdy etc. This advertising strategy has naturally spilled over as well into the production of films with 'placement advertising' a common trend e.g. actors driving a Mercedes so that the very exposure in that film brings about another kind of awareness for the use of that car.


                 New Mercedes Benz Museum by Stuttgart, Germany


Naturally with the construction of a corporate museum goes a new use of space insofar as it links the old fashioned show room used in the past to exhibit old and new models with what a museum does and can actively do, namely entice the visitor to a whole set of interactions as part of the museally induced experience now related to just one item: the car. Deliberately space is used to build a legacy around it. The corporate museum of Mercedes Benz by Stuttgart has, for example, a built-in ramp showing the innovation over time. The architectural design is made to highlight a futuristic perspective while being at the same time in touch with not merely remnants of the past, but as lovers of old timers cherish, the upkeep of the original models so that an entire club culture exists around this cherished love for old and new cars.

Likewise something is altered in this economy-culture relationship once a bank no longer sponsors directly artists or buys their works to decorate their various buildings, but start to buy up cultural heritage buildings and after renovating them use them as a commercial entity but with a definite historical and cultural identity. Since this entry by commercial entities into the museum sector means a different interaction between culture and economy, emphasis seems to be put on show casing advancements in technology while wishing not to neglect the material lessons of the past. Consequently the new kind of relationship being shaped by these types of museums with regards to use of space can be depicted in a diagram:


In Greece, the Piraeus Bank created a special cultural management unit which organizes and manages various traditional types of museums e.g. one which shows how olive oil was produced in that region. In Volos the Piraeus cultural management took over the former brick factory Tsalapatas in Volos, Greece and created a lovely museum of industrial heritage which shows to visitors how the red brick was produced in the past.

From cultural heritage to industrial heritage – a brief commentary

Besides the Industrial Heritage Museum and a Museum of the City, the City of Volos plans to have in future a Museum of the Argonauts. Here some initial remarks may suffice about the kind of lessons can be drawn out of the new use of space once museums are in reality expressions of re-use of industrial heritage.

Important is the question posed at the outset. For what special exhibits are needed to convey to today's children not only technology and its innovative path per say, but what notion of the industrial age is conveyed. The time period to be covered has to stretch from the industrial revolution until recently when entire cities collapsed due to their industrial base no longer functioning.

Here experiences made in a city like Volos can provide a point of entry. The question becomes then what new narratives are needed to be told by such a museum, and how does this narrative can help to relate the ancient to this recent or industrial past? Any museum means to step into a special space set apart from what is the usual normal life of a city. Also one important aspect has to taken into consideration, architecturally and design wise speaking. For if steel beams are put into a former tabacco ware house constructed only out of wood, the introduction of this new material may distort and destroy the original meaning completely. Volos seems to have found some very successful solutions to this challenge and therefore it allows, for instance, the conversion of small spaces into one single big space large enough to house conferences. Practically that reflects how new use and needs can alter the original design, and however do it without destroying the quality of the old.

The main project in Volos has been focusing on the former brick factory of Tsalapatas. There shall be located a museum on industrial heritage besides many other uses including restaurants, music hall, workshops, exhibition spaces etc.

Given the existence of real machinery left intact, it gives a real sense of place when this is made into a museum to show how the red brick was produced with machinery made in Belgium. Here then arises the difficult, equally interesting question but what else has to be added to such a museum, in order to become a real museum of industrial heritage?

Naturally, one can think, for example, of the brick production determining the styles and architecture of the houses build in the local area. That differs greatly from the modern language of cement used nowadays everywhere. Moreover such a museum can demonstrate in a wider sense the meaning of industrial power having come to Greece. It can exemplify a transition usually left out in the normal perception of Greece e.g. tourists looking only at Ancient Ruins and classical statues as if modern Greece can be understood by leaving out what happened in between 'then and now'. Industrial heritage can vindicate that and demonstrate that the Greek economy had and still has its own means of production. 

Naturally all that goes without saying in the direction of coming to terms with a development which shapes society on the basis of what took place in the recent past. Again in terms of historical archaeology, when walking through the abandoned halls of Tsalapatas, we noticed that it was filled with little items like pay sheets for workers. These items can become objects of new narratives. So the question is how the narrative about industrial heritage should look like?


Practical recommendation: develop museum for 'Industrial Heritage' with artists


                      Industrial Heritage: Machinery of Tsalapatas

Proposal 1: include artists in observations and reflections about life in the industrial age – recommendation by Carol Becker. Dean of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the museum workshop in Volos, June 2005.

Here some further ideas by a photographer of the same School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Eleftheria Lialios:

In looking at Tsalapatas and what is available on the web (www.i-politismos.gr) a few ideas come to her mind in terms of the space.

First, the photographs below could house works that artists have done on industry, space, and a re-evaluation of those spaces reflected in their works.

This space can house flat works on each side of the walls. It would be interesting to have works that confront the viewer directly with no movement possible. These walls could contain works that reflect distant landscapes of international industries, or directly confront the viewer with images that could be disturbing up close. An audio piece could possibly be included within this space also, an installation.

This space would be beautiful with works that could also be included on the rounded ceiling. This would be a good space to show the work that I am doing. I would also consider using the rounded dome to house transparencies, images with light behind them, mimicking a sky of images, the outdoor world, etc.

This space could house works on the metal bars, hanging scrolls possibly, also house works on the brick wall.

These doors, could display random works on each panel.? If the doors are movable, an installation of works that are about containment, boxes with objects would also be interesting.?

Proposal 2: relate artistic work to activities dealing with industrial heritage

Industrial Heritage 2006

Example: There was organised a European contact weekend for industrial heritage volunteers and associations in Beringen (Belgium) 7 - 8 October 2006.


1. In every European country the research in and study, recording, conservation, development and management, and interpretation of Industrial and Technical Heritage largely depends on the initiatives and works of volunteers and volunteer NGOs. Without their efforts numerous important sites, objects and documents that witness of the birth and growth of our industrial and technical society would have been lost forever. But their idealistic and unpaid efforts are often undervalued by authorities and official institutes.

2. E-FAITH, the European Federation of Associations of Industrial and Technical Heritage is a young platform promoting contacts and co-operation between non profit volunteer associations, the place where those can meet, exchange experiences, learn from each other and support each other's activities an campaigns. (2)

This first European Industrial and Technical Heritage Weekend took place in and around the unique buildings of the coalmine of Beringen (Flanders, Belgium) - a splendid industrial archaeological area: actually the largest mining complex in Europe that is completely protected by law.

The colliery is surrounded by a network of transport infrastructure (coal harbour and canal, railroads and roads) and a large mining village, including the houses of miners and engineers, schools, church, a convent, playing fields (football, tennis), meeting halls, cinema,... all built by the mining company. Participants will have the opportunity to visit the mine buildings and the surroundings.

Some remarks taken from her letter about the announcement made above:

“About the mining community in Belgium, it is a well known fact that communities suffer with health problems due to the mining industry, including neurological problems associated with living near railroads, etc. Pediatric cancer is a big problem all over these communities. What interests me is the fact that a community is living near these wastelands, who are suffering with their psychological and physical health, due to a financial need for survival, while factories are minimizing the health risks, giving workers inadequate financial compensation, placing these factories near where humans live and children play. A solution would be to place these communities at a distance and making sure emissions are not destroying the ozone and the life of the people that are working for these companies.”

“The steel industry below employed 2000 people at its height, and now is going to be demolished. The people who lived near this plant, are now out of a job, suffering with respiratory problems, and still living with oil refineries surrounding their back yard.”
- Eleftheria Lialios, 10.9.2006

Artistic observations about life close to industrial plants is not merely a matter of reconstructing materials overused and exploited by industry but without definite future but rather a statement of wonder as to how people could live so close and like that in the vicinity of industrial plants?


Museum of the future - the future Argonaut museum: a practical conclusion

At the summer school of HERMES held in August 2006 a specific concern was how the narrative of the Argonauts can be told? The same applies to an Industrial Heritage Museum with the difference that real artefacts are available to tell the story. They do not need to be invented or suggested in some way or another.

In this modern age with technology redefining means of communication and therefore interactions, the question becomes what if a modern museum uses multi media to create virtual worlds to replace the missing artefacts, what does this do to the narrative about the Argonauts? Philosophers and psychologists may want to extent this question into what type of experience it would constitute? Does it stimulate the mind and shall the visitors be able to 'image' the voyage of the Argonauts? All sorts of virtual worlds can be created, technically speaking, but something holds here as to what was said by Kolakowski.

The philosopher Kolakowski spoke about the risk to create a false sense of certainty at the level of sense perception. This false sense is linked to the need to create a unity of perception. Consequently a wrong imitation of reality takes on the shape of cartoon like images to mask the real loss of a true sense of reality. If now the underneath of these images cannot be activated to step outside the relationship cartoon like image and reality, then reality itself can never be related to, never mind be questioned. Yet the latter aspect is a prerequisite for an active imagination. 

To imagine something, the visitor has to be freed from the usual constraints, and this includes the fact Picasso pointed out, namely as adults we tend to lose the ability to imagine like small children are capable of doing. If not free but rather at risk to be merely locked into a specific way of telling the story, then what does this do to the image building process on which modern society relies upon? Too often these images become stereo typical ones. Once that happens, it is difficult to alter such a prejudiced world view based on stereotypical images.

How then to present the industrial life out of a modern perspective? And how does a museum of the future fit into such a museum landscape? It seems that historical phases marked by key experiences and by what people went through need at the epistemological level clarification of the terms used to designate such phases e.g. industrial heritage. Here the proposals have been to include much more artists in telling the story and therefore only secondary the type of multi media to be used to supplement the narrative.

Hatto Fischer

Volos 2006 (revised Athens 30.8.2013)



1. Maria Papadimitreou, (artist and professor at University of Thessaly) has created a museum out of her work with the Roma and their specific use of space; she is also engaged in the use of the urban screen as way of communicating with people about specific stories linked to hotels or gasoline stations prior to someone going into exile. See www.tama.gr

2. For further information see website of E-FAITH, www.e-faith.org

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