Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2003 / 8 Adar I, 5763

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

This museum of my dreams would be no accident | A French philosopher -- the best kind of philosopher, really -- Paul Virilio, recently proposed the creation of a Museum of Accidents. His thesis is that as we make more and more technology, and add more and more people, we will therefore have more and more accidents, and the best way to avoid accidents is to remember them. Kind of like brooding over a divorce, I guess, to ensure that things go better in marriage number three.

To illustrate what he has in mind for this museum, Mr. Virilio was given, according to the New York Times, an exhibition called "Unknown Quantity" at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, with art installations, and "movies, videos and photographs evoking hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, deadly train derailings, plane crashes, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the devastating explosion of a chemical factory in Toulouse, France, last year."

Its primary focus is on September 11, which wasn't really an accident, of course, but Mr. Virilio calls it "war disguised as accident" because it had the surprise element of accidents, and used technology -- airplanes -- as a weapon. The event is interpreted by a number of artists, including avant-garde vet Jonas Mekas, and various other European and American video artists, who strive to be provocative, evocative, and elliptical in exchange for grant money.

Now, video installations as a concept make me shudder, and are certainly not what I would be looking for in an Accident Museum. My personal tastes in museum and public exhibitions are along the lines of your Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, your Guinness Book of Records Museum, your wax museum, your rattlesnake ranch.

But this museum could still be the museum of my dreams. For that to happen, I would like to see wax representations of some guy whose head was impaled by a lead pipe, and survived. After all, some accidents are happy ones. I would like to see clockwork and hologram replicas in HO gauge of flash floods, earthquakes, and tidal waves. Is that too much too ask?

And why not make the museum interactive? As visitors enter, secretly tie their shoelaces together. Place roller-skates, banana peels, and oil slicks in strategic locations. Take a couple screws out of the banister.

Make sure that certain exhibits might topple at any moment. Sell leaky pens in the gift shop.

If you want to prevent accidents in the future, my theory is you should keep people on their toes. And forget video installations altogether, unless you rig the display so it shorts out at random. The way I see it, the real Museum of Accidents is an accident still waiting to happen.

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Ian Shoales