10 November 2021 -

Report: Research Exhibition Grant by Nana Wang

With the generous support of the Design History Society, and facilitation by Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading and Gessellschafts - und Wirtschaftsmuseum (Vienna Social and Economic Museum), we had the chance to present this virtual exhibition project 'ISOTOPIA, the museum of the future,' which aims to explore the museum pedagogy methods and picture education in ISOTYPE.

Exhibitions and museums are the specific keywords when we scope on ISOTYPE, which embodied much of Otto Neurath’s thinking and illustrated his main idea of visual education. Different from other perspectives, which focus on the development of ISOTYPE’s picture language, we want to explore and raise awareness of ISOTYPE institute’s contribution to visual education and knowledge transformation methodology. We aim to transform his future museum ideology into reality by building a virtual “museum.” Otto Neurath’s concepts from the 1930s about the functions of the future museum provide important insights that are still relevant in contemporary contexts. He recommended to utililize popular media to transform tacit knowledge to make it visible for public education. According to Neurath, unlike conventional museums where items on display are unique and not easily reproducible, all things in the museum of the future should be able to be taken away and duplicated. In his article Museums of the Future, he describes an ideal exhibition. If Otto Neurath created an ISOTYPE museum and an exhibition for children in the modern social context, using the latest interactive media technology, what would he do? This project aims to answer this question. We hope to create this kind of exhibition based on the description in Neurath’s article.

This project consists of two main components. First, we built this website as a virtual museum according to Neurath’s prescribed framework. Users will be able to interact with the broad framework of the “museum”, choosing pathways based on their own goals and interests rather than a pathway dictated by the museum or exhibition curator. Second, the exhibition in this virtual museum, focuses on one of ISOTYPE children’s publications-Tips for tots.

Visited archives

In order to have a comprehensive understanding about ISOTYPE, it is necessary to visit the original archives. I visited Gessellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum twice in Feburary and June 2019, which were very precious opportunities to get in touch with the original archives, and under the permission of the curator, I could scan every copy of their collection, these materials embodied in this project. Besides, we did a short interview with Mr. Halusa,who is the chief curator in the museum. Mr. Halusa provided many insightful opinions based on his practice experience in museum education,he believed that compared with reading charts online, the charts as knowledge materials can provide a holistic view about the situation, through comparing and sorting, learners can make their own conclusions.

Compared with Gessellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum, which is the origin of ISOTYPE, University of Reading has the most profound materials and contributes to many relevant researches about ISOTYPE. The trip to University of Reading in September 2019, under the kindly coordination of Professor Sue Walker and the assistance of Dr. Laura Weill, I spent three days with these archives. I typically focused on the materials involving children’s publications, concluding a wide range of collections about their creating process, cover from the drafts, personal correspondences with academics, and even some books which haven’t had a chance to meet audience, all these collections were donated by Marie Neurath in 1970s.

The Transformation process

The “transformation department” was considered as the most important part in ISOTYPE institute, which worked to “bridge the gap between public and the scholars.” Understanding their transformation method is critical to approach ISOTYPE practice. The majority of scholars have wildly accepted that ISOTYPE’s representation method is not an artistic style or visual decoration. However, there barely is discussion about the criterion of ISOTYPE transformation process.

We are highly concerned about their working process, which involves in going through the correspondences and sketches in archive materials. From those we tried to identify the working process from their daily practice. The core process of transformation is the understanding of the original knowledge materials and connecting the tacit knowledge with vivid life experience to make it accessible. These children’s publications are excellent examples of ISOTYPE’s “visual transformation” method. The children’s publications clearly transform tacit knowledge and make it accessible through visual imagery. As for metaphor and revivification, metaphor means using concrete objects to represent some tacit concepts in terms of making it more understandable, such as using symbols to identify different careers. Revivification means using pictures to represent timeline, causality or systematic structure. For example, Inside the atoms exhibited the inside structure of a single atom and The first invention used horizontal picturesque to show the development of a tool. In our virtual museum these works will be flexibly presented in different ways and users will be able to engage with them according to their preference.

Thanks to the support of the Design History Society, the virtual project: ISOTOPIA, the museum of the future
has been launched. We will keep on updating and modifying the content and relevant information, and we are looking forward to all the feedback and suggestions.

Nana Wang, Ph.D candidate at Visual communication design department, Art college, Sichuan University, China

The project:


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