A strange glow pervades Fiona Tan’s Shadow Archive, illuminating a well-organized collection of endless archival drawers. The starting point for the series of six black-and-white photogravures originates from Tan’s fascination for the Belgian visionary Paul Otlet (1868–1944), and his ambitious idea to catalogue all human knowledge in order to build world peace.
Together with Henri La Fontaine, Otlet developed the idea of a grand utopian scheme. As part of their vision, they initiated the creation of a world archive, the Mundaneum, in 1895. For almost forty years Otlet worked determinedly on the archive, cataloguing all kinds of human knowledge on index cards stored in large wooden cabinets. Otlet and La Fontaine developed the ‘Universal Decimal Classification’, a numerical system of cross-references to offer permanent free access to the archive. Today, the Mundaneum is known as the ‘Paper Google’ and considered a milestone in data collection and management, the basic idea behind the Internet.
Fascinated but also puzzled by his grand and impossible visionary dream, I have designed and constructed a circular building to house his imaginary archive. But in keeping with the digital era we currently live in, this utopian architecture, which I have drawn up as realistically as possible and on a scale of one to one, has been built entirely digitally, using CGI computer software. – Fiona Tan
Fiona Tan has built the architecture of Otlet’s Mundaneum in 1:1 scale using computer generated imagery software. Whilst Tan’s circular architecture is registered in all its details the actual place does not exist. The series of photogravures shows Tan’s imagined interior views of Otlet’s never completed utopian archive.
Fiona Tan, born in 1966 in Pekanbaru, Indonesia, currently lives and works in Amsterdam.
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