The future repeats itself in the Evoluon

The greatest crisis of the moment is: thinking that this time is a crisis time. Those who are seriously ready for lighter thoughts can go to Eindhoven, because the Evoluon will open again to the public – for the past 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, just go back to the past. The Evoluon has been an iconic building since 1966. It stands like an immense UFO in the west of Eindhoven. It was a gift to the Philips City of Light in honor of the company’s 75th anniversary. It would show how technology can make life ever lighter and more beautiful.

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

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

The new Evoluon, which will receive the public again from next Sunday, will continue 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.

To be seen in RetroFuture (bottom right of the photo): the car annex time machine from the film Back to the Future. Photo Jip Barth

The somewhat naive belief in progress from the sixties is now out of the question. In the exhibitions, the Evoluon wants to tell stories that are timeless, that provoke thought.

Pessimism is paralyzing

To feed discussions, optimist Van Mensvoort gives some examples of pessimism that later turned out to be unfounded: „Aristotle wrote 2,300 years ago: ‘The cities are becoming 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 of mass starvation deaths, in his book The Population Bomb. What do we see now? Globally, overweight 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, then this: ‘The future is constantly repeating itself.’ And above all: ‘It wasn’t better before!’

Simple, unambiguous stories are in RetroFuture not told. None: look how Leonardo da Vinci designed airplanes over 500 years ago! Da Vinci is not missing in the new Evoluon, but it is placed 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, capped by an immense dome.

How do you show stories that are timeless in this futuristic building? About fear of the future. About wild predictions, which more often than not have come true. About crazy finds, which, 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 several tunnels under the dome of the Evoluon. They provide separate worlds, different perspectives within the immense space of the building as a whole.”

Click for full photo:

1968 advertisement for cleaning agent Lestoil: ‘Women of the future will make the moon a cleaner place to live.’
Illustration from 1930: ‘Beeldbeelden’, in an album full of futuristic expectations, published by the German margarine manufacturer Echte Wagner.

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

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

The tunnel over the flying person is designed as a passenger plane, including a screen in each seat. An entertaining selection of film fragments is shown, in which 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. In the meantime, if you look out of the small windows from your airplane seat, you will see a colorful collection of flying objects flash past, including witches on broomsticks.

Devil’s pact

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

Ancient is the dream of knowledge that makes supreme. See 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 in 7,471 books.

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

This narrative exhibition is more than just looking and reading. Conflicting views constantly provoke surprise and discussion. It is also a real experience, especially on the highest ring under the dome of the Evoluon, which has been set up as a funfair. With laser tag, where you try to touch organs in the body of a pig. Or in a time machine that lets visitors float through the air, looking through VR glasses, and letting them get away from space and time.

For the time being, the exhibition is intended for six months. And then? Over the next ten years, the Evoluon will serve as a breeding ground for Next Naturecenter for research and events in the triangle of nature, technology and design, headed by Koert van Mensvoort.

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

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