Museum of Worldlessness

Chapter 1: Collecting Escape


Ethnological museums are houses of cultures. Their collections were often acquired under colonial conditions and for nationalist purposes – not infrequently, they were even stolen. Their "collections" were framed by scientific discourses, which later contributed to the development of momentous biological and racial theories. Today, their exhibits – often adorned with art – purport to collect "cultures of the world“ equally. Some shows even create "exotic" worlds that have never existed.

What should a world museum of the 21st century look like?
If the established relationship among the ethnos (people), demos (citizens), and nomos (statutes of space) crumbles, then who can collect what, and in whose name? Who are the subjects of culture and history? If deviation and powerlessness become norms of a new feudalism, where are the rules about how to refer to what one has achieved and what the others have? And how is it possible to collect cultural artefacts which only exist as digital codes on server farms of global corporations?

The enormous distortions at the beginning of the 21st century create "superfluous people" in all regions of the world, which the recently deceased sociologist Zygmunt Baumann describes as the "worldless“ of today. They are denied basic human rights as well as any prospect of a decent life and participation in society. Can a "fantastic ethnology" build a future memory for them?

This is the question raised by a museum art project by Alexander Martos, Niko Wahl, the Fellows of the Collegium Irregulare and the Volkskundemuseum in Vienna. On four evenings, the Museum of Worldlessness creates a collection without a place (Chapter 1: Escape) in the Academy of Unlearning, a story without subjects, a people without consequences. To the abundance of worldliness, it contrasts the porousness of the cultures of the worldless.

Collegium Irregulare
A fellowship program for asylum seekers

Many artists, creative and cultural professionals, scientists, journalists, engineers, and entrepreneur flee in the face of war, persecution, torture, and other inhumane treatment. Thousands of them became stranded in Austria in 2015.

Although they are under the special protection of the Geneva Convention on Refugees, their civil rights end at the gates of the labour market. Participation in residency programs and scientific fellowships, and financial support for start-ups, all of which are open for EU citizens, remains an unachievable privilege. The legal situation currently forces thousands of highly qualified asylum seekers to suffer deprivation while standing in line for a better life, even as a lot of money is spent in the country enticing leaders into culture, science and technology.

In the coming years, therefore, the Collegium Irregulare – a project of Science Communications Research in cooperation with the Academy of Unlearning – will invite asylum seekers, within the framework of months-long fellowships, to take up again the threads of their life and work, their thoughts and their designs, their talents and their passions. A joint effort is also being made to determine the form of a future institution – part arts academy, part science college, part project incubator – for refugees and asylum seekers.

The Collegium Irregulare is an art project that takes up a political heritage: the threatened art form of founding institutions.

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