The future repeats itself in the Evoluon

The greatest crisis of the moment is: thinking that this time is a crisistime. 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 thanthirty 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 buildingsince 1966. It stands like an immense UFO in the west of Eindhoven. It was agift 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 keepingwith the zeitgeist of the time, the company displayed a bright future full oftechnological progress here. Astronauts made one space trip after another;millions of people were glued to the television that had penetrated almostevery living room.

The Evoluon received millions of visitors who could already play with newtechnological discoveries for the home. Until Philips sank into a crisis inthe course of the 1980s; the Evoluon closed its doors to the general public in1989.

The new Evoluon, which will receive the public again from next Sunday, willcontinue where the previous one left off. “It is our duty to be optimisticabout the future,” says artist and philosopher Koert van Mensvoort, thedriving force behind the resurrection.

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

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

Pessimism is paralyzing

To feed discussions, optimist Van Mensvoort gives some examples of pessimismthat later turned out to be unfounded: „Aristotle wrote 2,300 years ago: ‘Thecities are becoming too big, and therefore unmanageable.’ Church FatherTertullian already warned in the third century AD about the danger ofovercrowding. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich warned of mass starvation deaths, in hisbook The Population Bomb. What do we see now? Globally, overweight mortalityhas increased enormously and hunger has decreased.”

To which Van Mensvoort also adds a disclaimer: “Of course humanity hasenormous problems to overcome: climate change, pandemics, food shortages inparts 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 theaccompanying texts: ‘to make visitors future-proof’, because if the past showsone pattern, then this: ‘The future is constantly repeating itself.’ And aboveall: ‘It wasn’t better before!’

Simple, unambiguous stories are in RetroFuture not told. None: look howLeonardo da Vinci designed airplanes over 500 years ago! Da Vinci is notmissing in the new Evoluon, but it is placed in the context of many successesand 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,” shesays on the ground floor, in the middle of a circular structure, capped by animmense dome.

How do you show stories that are timeless in this futuristic building? Aboutfear of the future. About wild predictions, which more often than not havecome true. About crazy finds, which, in retrospect, turned out not to be socrazy.

Gerritzen: „The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick gave me theidea to build several tunnels under the dome of the Evoluon. They provideseparate worlds, different perspectives within the immense space of thebuilding as a whole.”

Click for full photo:

1968 advertisement for cleaning agent Lestoil: ‘Women of the future will makethe moon a cleaner place to live.’

Illustration from 1930: ‘Beeldbeelden’, in an album full of futuristicexpectations, 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 raysthat travel faster than light. In her tunnels Gerritzen shows ‘eternal dreams’and ‘timeless challenges’.

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

The tunnel over the flying person is designed as a passenger plane, includinga 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 andpasting from films from a century ago to recent high-tech animations. In themeantime, if you look out of the small windows from your airplane seat, youwill see a colorful collection of flying objects flash past, including witcheson 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 Fausttheme: a diabolical pact, a deadly attempt to know more than God. But new isthe depiction of this, by the American artist Michael Mandiberg, who hasprinted 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 imagesof disasters on one wall and opposite life-size portraits of a powerfulcompany. 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. Conflictingviews constantly provoke surprise and discussion. It is also a realexperience, 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 touchorgans in the body of a pig. Or in a time machine that lets visitors floatthrough the air, looking through VR glasses, and letting them get away fromspace and time.

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

“The first two or three years we present starters,” he says. “The main coursewill follow in 2025. Then we will go on a journey with Spaceship Earth. Afterall, the big question at the moment is: how do we take our planet one stepfurther in a fascinating journey of discovery? Keeping in mind the wonderfulquote from Canadian philosopher and researcher Marshall McLuhan: There are nopassengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew. ‘ ”