The future repeats itself in Evoluon

The greatest crisis at the moment is: to think that this time is a time of crisis. Those who are seriously ready for lighter thoughts can head to Eindhoven, because Evoluon is once again open to the public – for the last more than thirty years there have only been closed conferences.

An exhibition with an uplifting message marks the reopening. Title: RetroFuture. About: ‘The history of the future.’

But first let’s go back to the past. The Evoluon has been an iconic building since 1966. It stands like a huge UFO in the northwestern part of Eindhoven. It was a gift to Philips City of Light in honor of the company’s 75th anniversary. It would show how technology can make life ever easier and more beautiful.

At the same time, Philips also transformed Evoluon into a showroom. In keeping with the zeitgeist of the times, the company here showed a bright future full of technological progress. Astronauts made one space journey after another; millions of people were glued to the television that had invaded almost every living room.

Evoluon received millions of visitors who could already play with new technological discoveries for the home. Until Philips sank into crisis during the 1980s; Evoluon closed its doors to the public in 1989.

The new Evoluon, which welcomes the public again from next Sunday, continues where the previous one left off. “It is our duty to be optimistic about the future,” says artist and philosopher Koert van Mensvoort, the driving force behind the resurrection.

Photo Jip Barth

The somewhat naive belief in progress from the sixties is now out of the question. In the exhibitions, Evoluon will tell stories that are timeless and thought-provoking.

The pessimism is paralyzing

To fuel the discussions, optimist Van Mensvoort gives some examples of pessimism that later proved to be unfounded: “Aristotle wrote 2,300 years ago: ‘Cities are getting too big and therefore unmanageable.’ Church Father Tertullian already warned in the third century AD. about the danger of overcrowding. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich warned in his book about mass starvation deaths The population bomb. What do we see now? Globally, obesity mortality has increased enormously and hunger has decreased.”

To which Van Mensvoort also adds a disclaimer: “Of course, humanity has enormous problems to overcome: climate change, pandemics, food shortages in parts of the world, wars. The point is: pessimism paralyzes and breeds fear. This undermines the development of new knowledge and creativity.”

The opening exhibition is therefore one with a mission according to the accompanying texts: ‘to make visitors future-proof’, because if the past shows one pattern, it is this: ‘The future repeats itself all the time.’ And above all: ‘It didn’t used to be better!’

Simple, unambiguous stories are in RetroFuture not told. None: see how Leonardo da Vinci designed airplanes over 500 years ago! Da Vinci is not missing in the new Evoluon, but it is set in the context of many successes and failures in the history of aviation.

A few days before the opening, the exhibition is still under construction. Curator Mieke Gerritzen gives a tour. “This building is overwhelming,” she says on the ground floor, in the middle of a circular structure, covered by a huge dome.

How do you show stories that are timeless in this futuristic building? About fear of the future. About wild predictions, which have mostly come true. About crazy finds that, in retrospect, turned out not to be so crazy.

Gerritzen: “The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick gave me the idea to build more tunnels under the Evoluon’s dome. They provide separate worlds, different perspectives within the vast space of the building as a whole.”

Kubrick’s tunnel is a classic scene from cinema history: Astronaut Dave Bowman (played by Keir Dullea) travels through time, surrounded by hallucinatory beams that travel faster than light. In his tunnels, Gerritzen shows ‘eternal dreams’ and ‘timeless challenges’.

For thousands of years, scientists and artists have let their imaginations express what Gerritzen incorporated into the names of the tunnels. They will ‘fly like a bird’, ‘never work again’, ‘establish a paradise on earth’, ‘know everything’, ‘live forever’.

The tunnel above the flying person is designed like an airliner, including a screen on each seat. An entertaining selection of film fragments is shown where people move through the air like birds and/or rockets.

The mix of visual styles is especially fascinating: from clumsy cutting and pasting from films from a century ago to recent high-tech animations. Meanwhile, if you look out the small windows from your airplane seat, you’ll see a colorful collection of flying objects flash by, including witches on broomsticks.

Devil’s Pact

The exhibition does not only show future images from the past, in photography, painting, design and film fragments, ten artists also show new work.

Old is the dream of knowledge that makes the highest. Cue the classic Faust theme: a diabolical pact, a deadly attempt to know more than God. But new is the depiction of this, by the American artist Michael Mandiberg, who has printed large parts of the English Wikipedia and compiled it into 7,471 books.

Dutch artist Rob Schröder created a haunted house with historical film images of disasters on one wall and opposite life-size portraits of a powerful corporation. Among them: Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Marine Le Pen and Kim Jong-un. Anyone who looks at the pictures automatically joins dark circles.

This narrative exhibition is more than just looking and reading. Opposing views constantly provoke surprise and discussion. It is also a real experience, especially on the highest ring under the dome at Evoluon, which is set up as a fairground. With laser tag, where you try to touch organs in a pig’s body. Or in a time machine that lets visitors float through the air, look through VR glasses and let them escape from space and time.

The exhibition is currently planned for six months. Also? Over the next ten years, Evoluon will act as a breeding ground for Next Naturecenter for research and events in the triangle of nature, technology and design, led by Koert van Mensvoort.

“For the first two or three years, we present starters,” he says. “The main court will follow in 2025. Then we will go on a journey with the spaceship Jorden. After all, the big question at the moment is: how do we take our planet one step further in a fascinating journey of discovery? Remember the wonderful quote from the Canadian philosopher and researcher Marshall McLuhan: There are no passengers on spaceship Earth. We are all crew.‘”

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