Stefan Cammeraat


50 Years, 2017

In the project ’50 years’ I invite guests to create works for time capsules which are not to be opened until 50 years into the future. In this way the traditional notion of the time capsule will be reversed: instead of trying to create through a selection of objects an as accurate representation of present life as possible, the focus will be shifted towards a vision of the future of the invited guests. The capsules will be displayed closed at first, focusing on the people who created the works which the capsules contain. Those people, each represented by nameplates on the time capsules which reveal nothing of what it contains other than the name of the creator, his or her occupation and optionally a title for the work, are invited to create a work which might be of value when it will be first displayed- 50 years into the future.

The guests partaking in this project:
James Beckett, Artist
Charles Jeurgens, Professor of Archival Science
Leonard Victor Rutgers, Historian of religion and archaeologist
Henk de Vos, Sociologist

In 2067, 50 years after the initial show, the time capsules will open up, displaying the works, acting as a retrospective on the forward thinking of our time- possibly forming a more accurate description of how we used to be and think in 2017 than any traditional time capsule might be able to do.

A short future history made in conjunction with the ‘50 Years’ show at EXbunker, released in parts leading up to the opening

1. A history of loss

“The structure of history, the uninterrupted forward movement of clocks, the procession of days, seasons, and years, and simple common sense tell us that time is irreversible and moves forward at a steady rate. ‘Either you must suppose that this universe dies and is born again miraculously at each moment of duration, or you must make of its past a reality which endures and is prolonged into its present.’” 1

As soon as we discovered the possibility of unearthing traces of our ancestors, we decided it best to overcome that long boring wait which is so characteristic of natural processes by burying our treasures ourselves. This process was originally employed to grant our rulers wealth in the afterlife. Later this wish for immortality prevailed, albeit in a more democratic fashion.2 At first this process seemed innocent enough. But as we started to bury more and more of our heritage inside the earthly crust, voices stood up and reacted in terror. Arguments against the process were many and broad.3, 4, 5

For some time as a means to mitigate those arguments, we buried items of little significance- which still litter the globe today.6 Capsules of this kind were commonly understood to be a novelty, for the type of items they carried rarely provided any kind of clear view of the society of the past, and the practice of so-called ‘serious time-capsules’, in which the contents actually mattered to both present and future, was quickly continued.

The truth is that even for relatively short time intervals mankind hasn’t got the patience or the memory. This is something which becomes especially clear once we consider that the first modern time capsule was very nearly forgotten when it was rediscovered and opened in July 1976.7 Or that its predecessors didn’t even have a target date- it was merely meant to survive the imminent apocalypse.8 Sadly, most of the objects we conserved for future generations got forgotten as interest dwindles fast after the closing event, and even when not forgotten they elude the clutches of time. The fact that even now we (although rarely) unearth capsules which have not been consciously kept track of is testimony to this.

The connection between forgetting ones past and the production of time capsules was not just a paradoxical consequence of the structural use of them; it was one of the main reasons to begin using them as well- either out of a fear of loss or a boasting of progress.9

Subsequent generations between the closing and the retrieval date of time capsules could not reach the artifacts they contained directly, and as a result a great deal of historical information was lost. Such was the loss, and so great our advancement in historical preservation, that as soon as we reached the target date we could no longer discern between true historical findings and objects purposefully buried beneath the earth by our precursors. Once we got a hold of this imminent danger present in our own increased expertise in this practice, we set our best archeologists to the task of fighting this strangely backwards preservation issue. While options were plentiful, none of them were adequate. The simple addition of timestamps on the capsules for example was of no use, for they were easily falsified, and notorious for being stolen, and there was no certainty that we would hold on to the Christian calendar for an extended period of time.10

1. Bergson, quoted in: ‘The culture of space and time 1880-1918’ , S. Kern, Harvard university Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 1983, p43

2. It has to be noted that one instance of a more ‘modern’ (and intentional, unlike the likes of Pompeii) time capsule exists which is more than 5000 years old. The Epic of Gilgamesh opens with instructions of how to find a box of copper located in the foundation stone of the great walls of Uruk. In the box were the tales of Gilgamesh.

3. Great historical events are beyond the grasp of everyday life, and in accordance to this commonly understood statement, very little of the items which we preserve will be of any significance. Furthermore, anything which is of any real value forebodes the practice of the time capsule- for this practice of preservation inevitably means a loss of the artifact for an extended period of time in which the object may have been of great significance, might it have been in reach.

4. Historians also concede that there are many preservation issues surrounding the selection of the media to transmit this information to the future. Some of these issues include the obsolescence of technology and the deterioration of electronic and magnetic storage media, and possible language problems if the capsule is dug up in the distant future.

5. The problems concerning the malleable character of language. This was earlier discussed in an article in Scientific American in 1972, which criticized the use of an arrow in the famous Pioneer plate, because arrows are an artifact of hunter-gatherer societies like those on Earth; finders with a different cultural heritage may find the arrow symbol meaningless.

6. Most American time capsules from the 19th and 20th centuries contain at most a Bible, some stamps, a few coins and plenty of newspapers.

7. The Century Safe” was buried at the U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and set for opening 100 years later.

8. In the Victorian era there was a societal shift in which more emphasis was placed on the importance of time commemoration. The creation of a time capsule is an example of how people of the Victorian era commemorated time. These time capsules had no intended retrieval date and were expected to endure until the apocalypse.

9. Following is an exact transcript of the text of a four-page document typed in green ink on G. M. Davis and Son letterhead in the time capsule installed in 1905 in Palatka, Florida. It is one of the first modern time capsules installed. Punctuation and spelling was preserved as written. It is not known who the author was.
“November 8th 1884 the business section of Palatka Florida was destroyed by fire involving a loss of several Hundred Thousand Dollars in property; therefore the history of the city prior to this disaster is authentically unknown as nearly all the records of the town were then destroyed.”

10. The arbitrariness of the chosen closing and opening dates of time capsules is easily shown by taking a close look at the retrieval date of the Crypt of civilization. The Crypt of Civilization closed off in 1936 and is supposed to remain closed for 6177 years- the same amount of time that was then thought to have passed since the beginning of recorded history.

2. The dark age

The historical documentation of loss which time capsules soon came to be provided ground for speculation and conspiracy- and formed of history a very loosely tied series of autonomous instances of human interaction. There was no longer a clear line of narrative; no characters for future readers to empathize with, no struggle, no war- only an uninterrupted stream of victories. Even in those times it was commonly understood that history is written by its victors, but the conception that history was also transmitted by its victors- discovered by its victors- and continued by its victors didn’t occur for centuries.

This resulted in a general belief in an idealized and 'flawless' past and it wasn’t before long that our focus shifted from advancement and progress towards nostalgia. This conception was partially caused by some of our forefathers involved in the production of time capsules, most strikingly those following directly after great technological advancements or scientific epiphanies such as those in the early 20th century A.D., who believed that most- if not all- notable instances of human and technological progress had happened. This was of course rebutted by Einstein’s theory of relativity not long after.11

Naturally such instances of optimism infected any truthful representations of the past for future generations, and for a while this contagious positivity held strong in its future.12 The detachment with the struggle of our forefathers, but great appreciation of the outcome of their work not only changed our views of the past and present, but greatly impeded our utopian longing, which for centuries served as a natural precursor to technological and societal change.

For a while archeology served nothing more than nostalgia, until it was fully detached from the notion of time capsules, and archeology as a practice was no longer deemed worthwhile. It wasn’t just this shift in perspective which marked the separation between archeology and the practice of time capsules as one of the leading historical sources;
In June 1957 residents of Tulsa Oklahoma celebrated their state’s anniversary with a competition in which residents could guess the population of Tulsa in 2007, 50 years later. The winner of the competition would get a ‘perfectly preserved’ Plymouth Belvedere, which was called ‘…A true representative of automobiles of this century – with the kind of lasting appeal that should be in style fifty years from now.’ The car was thereafter sprayed in cosmoline, wrapped in plastic and buried in a concrete shell in downtown Tulsa. With traffic cruising nearby, the concrete tomb cracked- allowing water to enter the structure, compromising the ‘pristinely kept’ Plymouth and consequently marking an end to the tradition of burying time capsules.14 The most obvious solution was, naturally, to no longer bury our capsules beneath the crust of the earth, but to plant them above the ground.15, 16 In some instances we went as far as to send them off into space, as is the case with the Pioneer Plates, which were shot out of orbit in 197217, hoping to reach intelligent alien life forms rather than our progeny.

Generally dark ages, for example those in medieval times, last as long as it takes for someone to rediscover the achievements of the past. Yet standing upon those achievements was precisely the cause of the dark ages to reoccur in more recent times. Theories about the conscious removal of humanities historical flaws spread far and wide, and not before long the skepticism towards historical information and utopian ideals was supplemented by a general distrust in the ruling order. This resulted in revolutionaries reviving the ancient process of the innocent time capsule, complementing the conservation of man’s ‘greatest achievements’ with its flaws and once again with objects of minor significance. In this process they aspired to subjecting this false history to a more truthful one, ‘ that one day the future man may find out its true past, and once again piece together some kind of faith in his future’.

At this point in time two kinds of histories existed side by side, one holding on to the positivity of past generations, the other focusing almost exclusively on humanity's faults and subjecting the now commonly acknowledged flawless history to 'insignificant' objects.18, 19 Of course, however righteous its intentions, and after a short moment with positive outcomes, this practice still stood in the way of progress. With a notable see-saw swing history now reached the opposite end of the spectrum- yielding the same results. The true dark age of this period consequently consisted not of the traditional loss of knowledge- but rather of an oversaturation of it.

A more or less interesting incidental phenomenon was the increasing amount of objects determined to be ‘out of place artifacts’. Wikipedia describes those artifacts as being “… an artifact of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest found in an unusual context, that challenges conventional historical chronology by being 'too advanced' for the level of civilization that existed at the time, or showing ‘human presence’ before humans were known to exist.”20

11. Einstein coincidentally wrote a letter to the year 6939, which has been stored in the Westinghouse Time Capsule.
“Our time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves. However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything. Furthermore, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community. I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.”13

12. In the same capsule which contained Einstein’s message to the future, Thomas Mann wrote a letter as well.
“We know now that the idea of the future as a "better world" was a fallacy of the doctrine of progress. The hopes we center on you, citizens of the future, are in no way exaggerated. In broad outline, you will actually resemble us very much as we resemble those who lived a thousand, or five thousand, years ago. Among you too the spirit will fare badly. It should never fare too well on this earth; otherwise men would need it no longer. That optimistic conception of the future is a projection into time of an endeavor which does not belong to the temporal world, the endeavor on the part of man to approximate to his idea of himself, the humanization of man. What we, in this year of Our Lord 1938, understand by the term "culture", a notion held in small esteem today by certain nations of the western world, is simply this endeavor. What we call the spirit is identical with it, too. Brothers of the future, united with us in the spirit and in this endeavor, we send our greetings.”13

13. The Westinghouse I time capsule, buried in 1939, is meant to be opened in 6939. The Westinghouse I time capsule consisted not only of a capsule of cupaloy, but it also consisted of a book of record documenting the capsule. The purpose of this book is to preserve knowledge of the existence of the time capsule for 5,000 years, and to provide assistance to the people of the year 6939 in locating and recovering it. More than 3000 copies of the book were distributed to museums, monasteries, and libraries worldwide. If present-day methods of determining time are lost, future generations will be able to calculate the age of the time capsules using astronomical data. In the year 1939, there were two eclipses of the moon, falling on the third of May and the twenty-eighth of October. There were also two eclipses of the sun, an annular eclipse on the nineteenth of April, the path of annular eclipse grazing the North Pole of the earth, and a total eclipse on the twelfth of October, the total path crossing near the South Pole.

14. The 1957 Plymouth Belvedere capsule, opened in 2007 stands as a rusted down monument for each and every time capsule lost to groundwater damage over centuries of burying them.

15. Luckily many buried time capsules already had monuments marking their locations, as it was quickly discovered mankind hasn’t got the endurance to remember it for extended periods of time.

16. A second Westinghouse Capsule was buried in 1965. An exact duplicate of the capsule's articles resides at the Heinz History Center beside a replica of the Westinghouse I capsule.

17. The 1972 and 1973 pioneer plates, attached to the Pioneer 10 and the Pioneer 11, are meant to explore vast regions of our solar system beyond Mars, explore the environment of Jupiter and finally exit our solar system. Since 1995 there has been no contact with the space probes. The difficulties regarding the use of the arrow symbol on the plates has been noted earlier, but the plates contain more problems concerned with communicating with a civilization vastly different from our own. For one it uses line drawings of the human body to represent our species, a way of depicting which presupposes an understanding of two dimensional representations.

18. In 1977 a ‘golden record’ was attached to the Voyager space shuttle. This record contained common sounds from earth- which due to recording and replaying technology sounds more like an abstract mesh than a comprehensible auditory representation of life on earth. The more or less insignificant sounds consist of for example the roaring of a tractor, the clashing of waves and the herding of sheep- all mixed into a medley on the record. Without prior knowledge of what you’re listening to, it is incredibly hard to recognize the origin of the sounds – even for human beings.

19. However 'insignificant' certain items may appear to the common onlooker, theorists of time capsules generally agree on the fact that the most useful items to place into time capsules are objects of personal value to its creators. Items of more general significance are generally thought of as being better kept in museums.

20. The term is rarely used by historians or scientists. Its use is largely confined to cryptozoologists, proponents of ancient astronaut theories, Young Earth creationists, and paranormal enthusiasts. The term is used to describe a wide variety of objects, from anomalies studied by mainstream science and pseudoarchaeology far outside the mainstream to objects that have been shown to be hoaxes or to have mundane explanations.

3. The dark age (continued)

After a period of increasingly complex methods of time capsule production, science finally got to the point where ground water was no longer a threat, and in some cases the burial of time capsules was continued (more out of tradition than anything else).21 This allowed the revolutionaries, in contrast to the increasingly complex and expensive methods of time capsule preservation, to fight back with simple means: the pickaxe and shovel.

The revolutionaries’ exercise in forgery was by no means new, even though its purpose differs greatly from more ancient examples. This is clearly seen in a publication called ‘The Michigan Relics: A story of forgery and deception’, by James E. Talmage, who did an extensive study on the Michigan Relics, supposedly ancient tablets suggesting the existence of early Christian settlers prior to the European colonization of America. The publication opens as follows:
The modern manufacture of antiques has come to be a business of such proportions as to make necessary continued caution on the part of collectors. And the enterprise is by no means new. Forgery of relics of ancient art, and of masterpieces of comparatively recent date, have been pursued with such success as to deceive at times even the very elect. Moreover, the ill-directed energies of the forger are not confined to the field of art. Fossil fish are made for wholesale trade; ancient Egyptian mummies are produced to order; manuscripts of alleged antiquity are prepared as the market seems to demand. Graves of the dead — or at least the modern mounds said to be such — are stuffed with ‘relics’ such as were never known until long after the bodies of the dead supposed to be therein interred would have utterly gone to decay.24

The obstacles set up by the revolutionaries provided the historians of their time with a challenge-in the hopes of fueling the historians' professional skepticism with more or less believable historical- and out-of-place artifacts. By doing so they aspired to ignite a more substantial quest for humanity’s true past- while if their plans were to fail a critical tone of voice would be the least it would entail to.

The revolutionaries’ silent and almost unnoticeable protest in the form of compromising the validity of accepted history by actively engaging with the production of it was however so successful that it didn't take long for other revolutionary groups to pick up on this practice.

Of the early revolutionaries exists very little documentation, but they hold strong in urban myths. For example, a widespread story of a rich entrepreneur, one Elon Musk, who in a desperate attempt to conserve a more ‘truthful’ representation of his time, would have buried a personal selection of news articles and technological products on Mars, where ‘…they are as safe from human interference as they are close to providing information about our own to alien civilizations.’ Of course the fact that Mars is de facto less littered with ‘stuff’ plays part in the ease of its localization, and the fact that the capsule will be naturally buried due to the dust storms on mars makes it and object of at least minor interest.25 Or a more credible myth; Brewster Kahle’s attempts to digitize and save many books and webpages from destruction or loss, without any clear curatorial practice or selection. While this ‘internet archive’ was highly successful when it first started, and supposedly contained many thousands of books, it closed at an unspecified date, due to unknown circumstances.

Theories about the conscious removal of humanities historical flaws spread far and wide, and not before long the skepticism towards historical information and utopian ideals was supplemented by a general distrust in the ruling order. Among the singular practices of such revolutionaries there were also bigger organizations at work, which employed the conscious construction of history not for monetary gains, as the perpetrators of the Michigan Relics hoax did, nor for harmless ideological gains, as the previously mentioned Elon Musk or Brewster Kahle, but rather as a means to political and cultural change.

As suspicion to those historical alterations rose in the ruling governments, it was quickly decided to reduce the amount of government funded time capsules significantly. Because of this the only properly documented time capsules from after 1985 were created as a commercial stunt by television programs and channels (very much like the Westinghouse capsules, which were made for the New York world fair), or by companies to celebrate their anniversaries. Some indications of personally kept capsules remain, yet, and however high the spirits are, as is often the case with personal projects, any decisive evidence to their existence has been lost.26, 27, 28

21.While most technical problems got resolved, the political and social problems remained.22, 23

22. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi buried a time capsule outside of the gate of the Red Fort complex, Delhi amidst political opposition. The capsule contained post-independence history of India, and was scheduled to be opened after 1000 years had passed. It was however unearthed in 1977, its contents never made public, and destroyed.

23. Recently a capsule buried in 1983 was rediscovered, which contained a computer mouse used by Steve Jobs. The capsule was unearthed over a decade after its target date, as the plot of land it resided on had changed hands, and the capsule was consequentially forgotten until its coincidental retrieval.

24. J. E. Talmage , ‘The Michigan Relics’: A Story of Forgery and Deception, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Museum, 1911

25. Elon Musk’s personal time capsule has comparable implications as for example the Immortality drive, which was placed in the International Space Station in 2008. Like the more ancient Victorian Era capsules this capsule is meant to survive any apocalypse on planet Earth. The Immortality Drive contains fully digitized DNA sequences of a select group of humans, such as physicist Stephen Hawking, comedian Stephen Colbert, Playboy model Jo Garcia, game designer Richard Garriott, fantasy authors Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, pro wrestler Matt Morgan, and athlete Lance Armstrong. The microchip also contains a copy of George's Secret Key to the Universe, a children's book authored by Stephen Hawking and his daughter, Lucy.

26. Another proposed cause of the reduction of ‘serious’ time capsules has been the rise of postmodern skepticism in the 1980s.

27. The international time capsule society, founded in 1990 has been documenting all types of time capsule projects worldwide. The ITCS has set up a registry of time capsules, and has 1,400 groups listed, while they estimate that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 time capsules worldwide. Paul Hudson of Oglethorpe University, where the ITCS was founded, estimates that more than 80 percent of all time capsules are lost and will not be opened on their intended date. The ITCS has reportedly been inactive since 2016.

28. In the town of Cowra an undated capsule which was buried near a sculpture of an eagle in the park not far from the town’s information center was retrieved in the year 2000 on an unspecified date. Although the sculpture remains, there is no mention of the time capsule once buried there, or its contents.

4. A place for everything and everything in its place

After many years of relatively low historical activity, increasing government restriction on the production of time capsules and regulations on excavations in general, the progeny of the early time capsule revolutionaries banded together in order to fight this absence of history. 29

The original group consisted of among others a miner’s union supposedly stemming from the miner strikes of the mid 1980’s30, as well as disillusioned archeologists, archivists and historians. Later they were backed by artists, technological investors and sociologists. While they originally fought against government involvement in time capsule production and increasingly strict excavation regulations, they also felt strongly that the governmental control over all historical source material was opposed to the fundamentals of democracy. 31

The consequential ‘optimistic revolutionaries’ of current time took great caution as not to make the same mistake their precursors did, by flooding the earth with falsified and insignificant time capsules.

The most historic of their endeavors oddly survived both the general lack of source material of those times- as well as the revolutionaries’ efforts to suppress any information regarding any of their activities (for key to their success was their low profile).
Ironically this consisted of the construction of multiple identical capsules, each of them housing supposedly all of the history books which were once part of the Internet Archive. The books were reconstructed in countless amounts of obsolete media, each ranging from a different time period. While the capsules are well-known due to the sheer amount of them, accurately dating the contents has proven nearly impossible. At the moment of discovery of the first of those capsules, the activities of the Internet Archive had been discontinued for decades.

It wasn’t before long that the standing governments conceded and joined forces with the band of reverse archeologists, who now play an inportant role in its administration.
Its range of functions is described as follows:
“…City planning and construction sites- preservation of nature, culture and history- something which they ostensibly called ‘Control of utopian visions or much of what is as of yet future concerned’- examination of the presently and future significant- general education- education of the masses and government controlled media expressions- and most notably, the preservation and decay of technology based media."32

Their extended efforts to regulate and bring back history into the lives of the population soon changed the face of the earth into the well-kept and ordered historical museum we know today. 33

29. As noted earlier; The Oglethorpe University’s ITCS estimates that from 10,000 documented time capsules at least 9,000 are lost.

30. A suggested origin of those revolutionary practices is the UK miner strike of 1984, which started to prevent colliery closures. Opposition to the strike was led by the British government of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party, to which it was a major victory, as it gave them the opportunity to consolidate their economically liberal program. The National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) defeat significantly weakened the trade union movement. The strike was led by Arthur Scargill, whom Robert Taylor depicts as an ‘industrial Napoleon’ who called a strike ‘at the wrong time’ on the ‘wrong issue’, and adopted strategies and tactics that were ‘impossibilist’, with ‘an inflexible list of extravagant non-negotiable demands’ that amounted to ‘reckless adventurism’ that was ‘a dangerous, self-defeating delusion’. After its defeat the NUM continued to fight by even more ‘impossibilist’ means, which have only recently been rediscovered; by constructing and altering time capsules in order to weaken the economic liberalist regime of Thatcher and the governments’ involvement in the production of them (at this point mainly through funding certain types of capsules). While the UK miner strike is regarded by some as of one of the main origins to the time capsule reformation movement, evidence leads to suggest to a much broader – and much more global movement.

31. Evidence, however hard to find or prove, has led to suggest that the revolutionaries’ suspicions were at least partly true, and the production of time capsules was indeed used to influence politics over large spans of time.

32. See: ‘On the functionality of governmental bodies part Three; Cultural heritage and construction regulations in the Common Era’, 2067

33. While a lot of information was recovered by the revolutionaries in their historic Internet Archive capsules, information from the 1980’s until quite recently remains elusive. As a temporary solution to this loss of information an area surrounding New York has been ascribed to house objects of ‘miscellaneous’ historical origin. Anyone can propose additions to this site, which are to be examined by a team Speculative Historicists on grounds of their temporal probability.

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