Expositur: 2002, KIASMA, Kontti Helsinki/ FIN
   screenshots       self portraits        installation view: KIASMA Helsinki 02  -  Vienna 01       Wunderkammer   

Ludic Machines by Mathias Fuchs

Umberto Eco proposed to investigate certain works of literature as ludic machines. These texts would work as structural units, whose purpose is, to get the reader involved in a game of words. The activity of reading would therefore resemble the process of playing a game – as opposed to the more teleological task of understanding a story. It seems that computer games, too, can be understood either as narrative devices or as ludic machines.

The narratologists tell us that every computer game has a story. In the beginning of the game you are told what the situation you are in is like, what the goals of the game are and what you have to do to fulfil your tasks. In many games these descriptions are extremely short. As Andrew Darley sarcastically remarks, the stated goals of games like Quake are usually:
"First: Stay alive. Second: Get out of here."

Recent developments add a set of persons the player can identify with or confront, regional and historical connotations and a story which tries to explain to the player why he should do what he has to do. "New York. Fugitive Undercover Cop. Nothing to Lose." Is the compressed story of the Max Payne game, nicely fitting onto a mouse-pad. In the intro section of the game there are a few more details on why the undercover cop seems to have nothing to lose. One might doubt the narratologists‘ proposal however, that these snippets of loosely connected fictional facts are a story in the classical sense of the word. If one watches gamers in action it becomes obvious that they don’t care about the story for most of the time and they are rather indulged in the performance of skills, the reproduction of gestural stereotypes or pure curiosity.

That is why the ludites state that the act of playing the game is an activity which is often driven by joyful improvisation. Especially when the elements of chance and vertigo (or alea and ilinx as Caillois called them) are predominant in a game, there is no need for a narration. Throwing the dices or going on a roundabout are such games.
New media in general and computer games in particular inherited the twofold nature of games. They contain narrative aspects and ludic aspects at the same time. When we started working on a computer game about Viennese museums we visited many museums and tried to find out what a museum-goer is actually doing. Does he learn about a scientific field? Is he led by a narration? Does he randomly drift through halls and have his eyes wander around amongst miraculous objects? Does the visitor always want to keep a sense of orientation? What is the potential use of loosing orientation? Is predictability the death of the marvel?

In constructing a virtual museum we had the chance to change the rules, the logical structure and the aesthetics of a museum from scratch. We wanted to build a museum maze, a crossword puzzle of objects and stories, an audio-visual "Wunderkammer" and a hypermuseum based upon a computer game. In close cooperation with 9 curators of selected museums and with the artist and project designer Christoph Steinbrener, who conceived and set up "Unternehmen Capricorn" we sketched a layout for the virtual museum which was going to be an integral part of Steinbrener’s exhibition. We called the computer game "Expositur", which is the name of a place where museums put their objects which do not fit in the main collection. Expositur is a place for the strange stuff, a place for neglected items, for embarassing objects and for those who escape classification.

In a movie by Chris Marker the narrator's voice tells us: "He told me about Sei-Shônagon, a lady of the court of Princess Sadako who lived in the beginning of the 11th century during the Heian period. (...) Shônagon was crazy about setting up listings for each and any thing: there was a list of elegant things, a list of sad things, another list of things not really worth bothering. One day she had the idea to set up a list of things which would make the heart beat faster." (Chris Marker: Sans Soleil) The Chinese fascination for classificatory systems is exotic and interesting for us, because the rules for classification are obviously deliberate. We forgot that the systems for classification our Western civilisation developed are also deliberate and take the scientific border-settings for granted. We expect a museum of natural history to exhibit the lion next to the tiger and not next to the turtle. A virtual museum can easily allow for multiple connotations. The tiger can be close to the lion, because they both belong to the family of cats. The tiger can also be close to the turtle, because they both begin with the letter "T". The tiger can also be close to the Titanic, because they both make the heart beat faster. The Chinese had another idea which has been written about in a book about the classification of animals. After having set up categories for the "small" animals, the "wild" ones, the "ones living in foreign countries" and so forth, they put another category there: "the animals which cannot be connected to a category".

Computer games are an appropriate platform for this concept of de-categorisation. The players are used to encounter a certain amount of unexpected connections. A computer game is not a video tape or a movie. There is no linear or preferred reading of it, but the players have to redefine the coordinates of their system of references permanently. Even though the virtual museum "Expositur” tells about objects and processes, even though there is a semantic framework and an underlying logic structure our knowledge space leaves ample room for alternative readings, it encourages the users to define their private paths away from the main roads. It requires the visitor to set up his personal speed, pace and rhythm for the access to information, for contemplation and sheer surprise.
Even though computer games seem to make a perfect platform for knowledge spaces, the concept is related to much older techniques of Mnemosyne, used by Greek singers (Simonides of Cheos) and philosophers as well as Renaissance scholars. This form of mnemotechnique, called loci or place method, was widely used by orators to memorise complete speeches. The orator picked a building and learned every nook and cranny very intensely until he was able to move about the building in his memory. As a preparation for the speech a plethora of items of different complexity and amount of detail could be placed in the memorised rooms, e.g. a scale for justice etc. While delivering the speech the orator wandered from room to room and collected the hints while the speech unfolded.
In another respect our computer aided knowledge space also adopts techniques developed by Aby Warburg for his research on the visual codes of Renaissance art. Warburg's scientific method consisted of connecting seemingly unrelated imagery to gain insight into visual similarities and connotations, which he called Pathosformeln. In our knowledge space the multiple coding of meanings contained with the exhibited objects is made transparent by the spatial relation superimposed upon the objects. (A technical drawing of a prosthesis, e.g., is positioned close to Freud's Prothesengott quote and therefore connected to Freud's theory from "Das Unbehagen in der Kultur". The latter might lead to beautifully painted transportation vehicles from Pakistan which have been supplied to us by the Museum of Ethnology.)



fuchs-eckermann (Sylvia Eckermann, Mathias Fuchs)
concept and realization, 3D architecture, textures, sounds, scripting

additional UNREAL scripting: Christopher Lindinger
additional 3D objects: Jürgen Hagler, Werner Pötzelberger
player skins: Philipp Brunner, Ngoc Nguyen
video stills: Ruth Kaaserer
translations: Rosemary Mackenzie, Andrew Bentley, Leena Bentley
Finnish voiceovers: Leena Bentley
English voiceovers: Andrew Bentley

thanks to

Perttu Rastas, KIASMA media curator
Petri Ryöppy, Esa Niiniranta, Simo Pirinen, KIASMA technical support

Expositur - a Virtual Knowledge Space (ein virtueller Wissensraum) was first shown in Vienna, May 2nd - June 21st 2001.
The interactiv knowledge game was part of the show: Unternehmen Capricorn.
Eine Expedition durch Museen im Karmeliterviertel. (concept and idea Christoph Steinbrener).

Collaborating Museums: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Ernst Mikschi), Jüdisches Museum Wien (Werner Hanak), Technisches Museum Wien (Hubert Weitensfelder),
Österreichisches Museum für Volkskunde (Kathrin Pallestrang), Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien (Rolf Laven), Heeresgeschichtliches Museum im Arsenal (Manfried Rauchensteiner), Museum für Völkerkunde (Axel Steinmann), Sigmund Freud-Museum (Alexandre Métraux), Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (Rainer Fuchs), Öster. Theatermuseum (Agnes Pistorius).

Expositur - a Virtual Knowledge Space was supported by:
Bundeskanzleramt - Kunstsektion, Bundesministerium für Innovation und Technologie.