A VR-essay and performance, PROSPEKT is a gaze guiding its audience through an exhibition. Tracing practices of colonial knowledge production and bio-prospecting of the seventeenth century to the modelling of contemporary data-prospecting shaping the economy today, PROSPEKT probes into the systematic search for economically valuable resources.
The colonial impulse witnessed in disciplines such as botany was a combination of economic and scientific desires, whose conquests prevail in museums and botanical gardens. These houses stand testament to the extraction and accumulation needed produce encyclopaedic projects that aided the organisation of the world. The colonial gaze was determined to scan the surface looking for specimens for study, fixing them as objects out of time and out of place, in the same way that digital documents offer imagings of the world at a distance via screens. This is a prospecting gaze – a wandering ogle that examines, sorts and determines meaning and value.
In 2009, Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, visited the National Museum of Iraq promising to “make the images and ideas of your civilisation [...] available to a billion people worldwide”. A few years later, the Google Cultural Institute, under Alphabet Inc. opened in Paris, and promised to disrupt the gatekeepers of world cultures by offering free data-prospecting services to memory institutions worldwide.
Information corporations monopolise data, which in turn, monopolise memory, and consequently power. By institutionalising information gathering practices they dominate the ways in which imagings of the world are produced, classified and observed. The display of the-world-as-an-endless-digital-exhibition, expanding on the accounts of Derek Gregory and Timothy Mitchell, is the evolution of a thriving practice dating back to colonial bio-prospecting and the development of display techniques from the diorama of the early 1800s to today’s VR headsets.
These platforms, devices, architectures and techniques of display bring distant objects, artefacts and documents into proximity. They are used to map, organize and manage the world’s information, and assert Michel De Certeau’s proclamation that “In history, everything begins with the act of separating, gathering, and turning certain objects that were otherwise distributed into ‘documents’.” Existence is affirmed through perpetual capture: nature into culture into data. All into capital.