Musée de Refusés - Mission Statement

Sunday, October 29, 2017

To raise awareness and educate the audience regarding the role of mass surveillance in contemporary societies, through engagement with the museum’s physical space, while rejecting objects as exhibits, focusing on the space itself as an educative tool.

This is the mission statement we came up with for our group project. We are asked to design a renunciation of the ‘normal’ museum; to question the very idea of the Enlightenment museum and conceive and contribute to the founding of an alternative museum—a museum of refusals. As a group, being part of the Spaces & Participation studio, we initially looked at thematics such as authority, surveillance, engagement, behaviour/code of conduct, obedience/discipline, accessibility, experience and the illusion of safety/comfort.

It was through quite a few hours of individual research and group discussions that we decided to explore mass surveillance as the main thematic for our project, touching on the rest of the concepts mentioned above as peripheral but equally significant.

Focusing on Michel Foucault’s discussion regarding Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon—a building with a tower at the center from which it is possible to see each cell in which a prisoner is incarcerated—we aim to experiment with the design of a museum where visitors are encouraged to engage with the physical space, switching roles from the surveillor to the surveilled, seeking to point out how behaviour is significantly altered along with one’s perception of being watched.

With a mission to refuse the orthodox role of the museum as state apparatus while embracing its fundamental pedagogic capacity, we will design a space where the audience will visualise and experience the surveillance state most western cities increasingly appear to be embracing. We have researched various methods of mass surveillance such as CCTVs, biometrics, cyber security, aerial surveillance, tracking of movement etc. Through our group discussions on the matter during the last four weeks, most of us became more concerned and took practical steps towards protecting our privacy such as installing VPNs. Assuming most people would feel similarly if they spent as much time investigating the problematic nature of mass surveillance as well as realising the potential for abuse through mass data gathering, our goal is to raise awareness and educate our visitors.

In a nutshell:

  • To refuse the orthodox role of the museum as state apparatus while embracing its pedagogic capacity.
  • To train a critical eye on the problematic of contemporary mass surveillance in particular.
  • To draw attention to the deeply embodied, material experience of surveillance through engagements with/in the museal space.
  • To reverse the surveillor-surveilled positions by raising awareness surrounding (1) the overall pervasiveness of mass surveillance, (2) its specific mechanisms, and (3) practical methods for resisting/subverting it.

We were asked to present our mission statement in video format which is mainly what we worked on during week 4.

Update: You can see the final project here.