The Museum of Capitalism
The Museum of Capitalism should serve as a sounding board for the conflicts and contradictions engendered by capitalism. Issues such as alienation, class tension, and commodity fetishism should be directly explored and experienced by visitors. A flexible, poly-iterative museum will be necessary to achieve this goal. For this example, I will focus on just one of the major contradictions in capitalism, and therefore only one of the many forms the museum may assume. Specifically, the conflict between capitalism’s concrete manifestation and its fluid aspirations. Capitalism constantly attempts to mitigate the inefficiencies of its physical existence by forcing commodities and labor to take on increasingly liquid or virtual forms1.
Traditionally, museums are nodes of accumulation, displays of wealth or state power hidden in plain sight2, often facilitating spectacular feats of capital fluidity3. Because the appropriation of objects by museums is a process of alienation, museums operate as platforms for indirect/abstract experiences. Capitalism inherently detaches and denatures its subjects. Instead of compounding abstractions, the Museum of Capitalism will work to render the manifestations of capitalism directly and explicitly.
In order to explore capitalism’s relationship with materiality, the museum will occupy a Panamax container ship, docking exclusively in Free Trade Zones, Special Economic Zones, and Foreign Trade Zones (I will use “FTZ” as a blanket term for these zones). FTZ’s are a crucial example of the tenuous relationship capitalism has to physicality. They are undeniably geographical spaces, existing within boundaries well defined by walls, fences, and other tangible elements. However, by eliminating duties on exports, waste and labour4, FTZs simultaneously attempt to minimize and (ideally) eradicate the friction generated by real space and political boundaries. By engaging the fluidity of FTZs, the museum embodies the flow of capital in an explicit way. dissolved.
Visitors, upon entering the cargo hold of the ship via gangplank, will be greeted by shipping containers, a gift shop (of course), and ample computer screens operating loading logistics software. The screens will display among other things, the contents of every container on board. Visitors will be given free reign of the ship, they might view a PortMiami sunset from the peaks of the container stacks, or explore the belly of the cargo hold. Access will be restricted in one case; every container on board will be locked, with no potential for visitors to verify the contents of the containers.
Dissonance between testimony and lack of physical evidence is the essential moment of the visitor experience. They are Schrödinger shipping containers, any one may be empty at any time. As the Department of Homeland Security is well aware, one container may contain “sesame seeds”, another, “electronics”, and the next “?”5. The same dissonance fuels the nervous energy of options markets and speculative real estate.
This iteration of the museum illuminates capitalism’s battle with materiality by using the tools of capital to generate a gap between empirical reality and virtual assertion. However, just as capital is constantly shifting tactics and forms, so too should the museum.