To say that a new world view is coming into existence is not saying much, unless we hasten to add that, for the first time, the view in question is truly universal. Indeed, it is not rooted in any of the outlooks once imposed by different empires of the mighty: Egyptian, Roman, Chinese or even Napoleonic. Nor does it stem from any religious hegemonies, whether poly- or monotheistic. It has no links with political ideologies, with any Marxist/Leninist trends of the sort that, at one point, looked like they would dominate the world. And it is equally unrelated to the neo-liberal view attached to the globalization that is a direct product of the free market economy. At another level, one might also put forward some connection with the views bequeathed to us by science, such as the rationalism of Galileo and Descartes, in conjunction with numerous technical inventions. The latter include the clocks and watches which, over such a long period of time, lent credence to a mechanistic view of the world. Only today has the resulting reductionism gradually begun to loosen its grip on us. In short, the new world view I have in mind has nothing to do with the "traditional" Weltanschauungen. It comprises no new representations or content matter, as might well be expected, but a process of emergence that resists definition - not for lack of information, but because that very information is undergoing massive changes.
As circumstances would have it, the whole story begins with a man -Tim Berners-Lee, a consultant with the CERN - and a dream: the dream of an instrument, the "Web," capable of linking together more than just the men and women who pioneered the Internet for military, scientific and academic purposes. Instead, he dreamt of a "World Wide Web" for the population in general, linking person to person, group to group, anytime and anywhere in the world: "The fundamental principle behind the Web was that once someone somewhere made available a document, database, graphic, sound, video or screen at some stage in an interactive dialogue, it should be accessible (subject to authorization of course) by anyone, with any type of computer, in any country. And it should be possible to make a reference - a link - to that thing, so that others could find it." (Weaving the Web, Orion Business Books, 1999, p.40). The author goes on to underscore the philosophic impact of this undertaking: "This was a philosophical change from the approach of previous computer systems." (ibid.)
The project was, and to this day remains so novel that, already at the time, Tim Berners-Lee felt free to assert: "Getting people to put data on the Web was a question of getting them to change perspective, from thinking of the user's access to it as interaction with, say, an online library, but as navigation through a set of virtual pages in some abstract space." Hence, it is the interaction between the "users" themselves and technology that constitutes, not the content of the view but, and more importantly, its raison d'être and the conditions enabling its realization as a living experience.
A further consequence - difficult to fathom, let alone accept, especially for authorities of all stripes - is not so much that the Web eludes all supervision, as some were quick to suspect and by the same token to condemn, but that it escapes that supervision by its very nature and ambition: "There was no central computing 'controlling' the Web, no single network ... not even an organization anywhere that can 'run' the Web. The Web was not a physical 'thing' that existed in a certain 'place'. It was a 'space' in which information could exist." (ibid p.39) (the single quote marks are my own emphasis).
Thus the Web is not to be confused with a data base, no matter how gigantic its scope. And even if it can be used for all the classical purposes, which it then augments thanks to its exponential power of calculation, it can never - and this is worth repeating, given how deeply ingrained our mental habits are - it can never be reduced to being a mere extension of the traditional structures. In short, it is always in the process of being reinvented.
Yet someone out there has to keep track of the latest developments. The review Flash Informatique, created to fulfill that purpose, offered Jacqueline Dousson occasion to address the question "Mosaic, vers une nouvelle culture?" (Mosaic, towards a new culture?) in its February 1994 issue: "Imagine that you are in front of your screen, that you click and read the latest news bulletin issued by the Pittsburg Supercomputing Center, that you click again and consult various works put out by the publisher O'Reilly, and that, with still another click, you land at MIT? Today, this is a reality, you can access all that and much more still." Dousson went on to point out the decisive role belonging to Mosaic, a project developed by the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) in Champaign-Urbana, as one of the first browsers to grant the masses access to the Web. And, finally, she asked "And what about the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) in all this? Although the EPFL has already finalized its presentation 'for the initiated' (http://www.epfl.ch/ [...] the goal to be reached is that from no matter where in the world, by being linked to the Internet, one will be able to know what the EPFL is, what is being done there, whom to contact."
Certainly, at the time of the article - that is, a mere ten years ago (as the stipulation "for the initiated" attests) - no one, not even the article's author, could guess that the "new culture" to which a question mark was attached would not only develop but actually change the course of the entire planet with its explosion of ever more numerous and efficient networks. No one except a Bill Gates! Noting in its issue of November 3, 1994, that "the emergence of Mosaic and the World Wide Web is the most exciting development in a decade,"the International Herald Tribune goes on to comment with remarkable clairvoyance: "Microsoft has already begun to purchase reproduction rights to the masterpieces of the museums all over the world to produce specific CD-ROMs on art (among others those of the National Gallery of London). The openness of INTERNET through WWW is one way; the commercial way of Microsoft is another. At this point, it is not to me to judge; both are surely shaping our future, but questions are raised and initiatives should be taken."
I deliberately draw the reader's attention to this last highly significant remark. The future of the Internet was to be decided on the basis of a trend characterized by heretofore unprecedented complexity. It would be an oversimplification to reduce that trend to mere commercial ends.
By painful coincidence, it was during this same period - late in 1993 - that the life of our son Jacques-Edouard Berger, born in 1945, was abruptly interrupted by a heart attack. During his all-too-short lifetime, devoted entirely to art, his thirst for knowledge had driven him almost all around the world. During his travels he collected numerous artworks with which he built up a private collection, while at the same time he served as travel guide to private groups, introducing them to the ancient civilizations to which he was particularly attracted - Egypt, China, India, Japan, Burma, Laos, and Thailand - together with a good number of locations in Europe and the United States.
While sharing his discoveries and enthusiasm with others, he unflaggingly photographed the sites and works encountered along the way. He thus assembled over 100,000 slides; these he subsequently put to use to illustrate his countless classes, lectures and publications. In the words of Jacques-Edouard himself, "Are not our creations and more precisely our works of art the most intricate and faithful evidence of our mutations?"
The prospects offered by the Web at that very time having come to our attention, it was thus in June of 1994 that we joined forces with the EPFL - in particular, with Francis Lapique - to create the Web site "A la rencontre des trésors d'art du monde / World Art Treasures." From the outset, we noted: "Taking advantage of the multidimensional specificity of the network, our intention is to shed a new light at the same time on art itself and on the manner in which it is contemplated. In contrast to the usual manner, consisting mainly in establishing data banks in a historical or documentary vein, our goal is to design and elaborate a different approach for each journey. [The idea is] to take into consideration and underscore each time one particular aspect in order not only to provide information, but to prompt a new experience in harmony with the new technology." Of course this was in no way meant as a stab in the back to Bill Gates - as ridiculous as it would have been presumptuous - but to demonstrate that the Internet and Web encompass a variety of potential pathways. That, besides the economic imperative lurking in this technology, the networks offer opportunity and room for spiritual and artistic values as well.
The first of our "programs" was featured on the Internet as early as July 1994, very shortly after the Web and the browser Mosaic had come into their own. It provides an overview of the main forms of artistic expression in the countries so well-traveled by Jacques-Edouard (Egypt, China, India, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand). The second program, Pilgrimage to Abydos, looks to the Internet as a means of allowing visitors to relive the pilgrimage taken some 3000 years ago by Pharaoh Seti I to build a temple bearing his name at Abydos, one of the meccas of ancient Egypt - a pilgrimage that Jacques-Edouard Berger himself accomplished numerous times, as described in his book "Pierres d'Egypte" (Stones of Egypt). The challenge of this digital approach is that of reconstituting the itinerary of a pilgrim not only in abstract and intellectual terms but, still more, one could say "spiritually" and "existentially": The trip is divided into successive stages leading from the first open-sky room all the way to the secret shrine inhabited by Osiris, Isis and Horus. In other words, the "pilgrims" visiting the site are invited to rediscover the process of being initiated, not only through words and images but by being subjected to an inner experience mirroring their virtual stage-by-stage screen trip. The paradox here, deliberately and duly considered, is that of resorting to electronics to produce a progression akin to an actual spiritual experience. It is as if the network, by freeing itself of defined space - or, at the least, from the primacy of a space where signs and images are traditionally inscribed - were freeing time into the flow of an initiatory journey. As if, too, it were rendering perceptible the feeling, or intimation, of the sacred.
These first shared treasures soon sprouted a whole series of offshoots: Roman Portraits from Egypt in January 1995, Sandro Botticelli in May 1995, A Shared Vision in December 1995, Enchanted Renaissance Gardens in March 1996, Vermeer in June 1996, Angkor in May 1997, Dizzying Grandeur of Rococo in May 1997, Georges de La Tour in September 1997, Borobudur in December 1997, Caravaggio in March 1998 - programs that are already past history in the light of all the subsequent advances in technology. Surprisingly and endearingly, right from the start this innovative undertaking enjoyed the warmhearted and very diversified collaboration of a wide circle of friends. It was they who, among other things, saw to the digitizing of several thousand slides, the gradual addition of legends, and the researching and verification of all the sources. More recently, in view of the progress in the software realm, they have also seen to it that Jacques-Edouard's lectures could appear on the Internet, treating viewers to his brilliant commentary viva voce on various subjects of his choice and many of his travels. Not to mention, furthermore, the generous and dedicated work accomplished by the members of the Foundation Committee, including the much appreciated contributions of several temporary assistants. All of which brings us to the site as it exists today: "FONDATION JACQUES-EDOUARD BERGER: World Art Treasures."
It is a change in the very nature of the link that lies at the heart of the transformation taking place today. No being, from the simplest to the most complex, can survive in isolation. Links are the sina qua non of our existence, of all existence: endogenous in linking together the component parts of each organism, and exogenous in linking living beings among themselves with their environment. The driving force behind a link -serving at once as its inspiration, manifestation and realization - comes down to what could be termed the phenomenon of activation. In a nutshell, links exist inasmuch as they are activated. That is, inasmuch as they are experienced in the relationship between the subject and the "object" (thing or being) or, more exactly, their interaction.
Now, by definition, the Web serves to set up links from one end of the planet to the other, from the farthest reaches of our collective memory to the latest news of the day. And this with anyone at all, immediately, everywhere? So that at present we have a situation where a connection experienced in real time establishes a virtual world - a world no longer based first and foremost on past references, as has been our habit until now, but one that emerges at the same time as the link comes into being. Hence it is no longer necessary to depend on classical tools, methods and techniques such as art history and the books it yields. The Web enables the creation of a multimedia field in which we can at once immerse ourselves and play a part. Here lies probably one of the most significant benefits of World Art Treasures: The adventure on which the site's founders first embarked has now become an ongoing process of expansion and ever more in-depth discovery. One could perhaps even go so far as to say that, despite his physical absence, Jacques-Edouard has been "brought back to life" - not in the usual sense of the expression, but in the sense of a kind of "cyber-existence" in which all can share. We can see that new dimensions are emerging from our present-day world and its accelerated transformation. Today's young people imply as much when referring, for instance, to our exploration of Mars: "Maybe we all go into space but we go mentally, virtually, electronically. We don't go with our bodies. As the technology gets better, the virtual reality could get quite profound." (International Herald Tribune, January 28 , 2004). In the generations to come, humans will have to be in a constant state of becoming. And their becoming will come to pass only if they link up with others to accomplish actions interconnected with the ever-growing possibilities of the new technologies.
RB (janvier 2004)
Translated from the French by Margie Mounier, March 2004
J-E. Berger organized a number of trips to Europe, the United States, and the Near and Far East. In drawing up the itineraries for these trips, he has sought to favor a sensitive approach to the various civilizations, to their respective culture, religion, and arts. Visits to each country's archaeological sites, monuments, museums, and galleries are prepared with an eye to three parallel lines of reference - namely history, the history of ideas, and the history of art - as presented in lectures both preparing for, and in prolongation of, each trip for art's sake.
Journeying certainly belongs to the most significant phenomena of the second half of the 20th century: to my mind, far more than a "digression" in our lives, such activity encourages the development - better yet, the revelation - of our consciousness.
The 20th century is often called the father of invention.
Journeying is perhaps its greatest invention: Greece has been brought to our very doorstep, Egypt seems far from foreign to us, and India can be conquered in less than 24 hours. How long ago they seem, those travellers who once - barely one hundred years ago - had to spend months preparing themselves for their departure, for the crossings, the heat and cold, the long days by horse, the bivouacs, the dangers, and the threat of the unknown. Arriving in Marseilles or Toulon, they would embark on a frigate - already to set foot on the vessel was to be "elsewhere" - from which, one or two or even more years later, they would disembark. Proudly emulating the mustachio of the Ottomans and the swagger of the Persian desert conqueror, each returning traveller would settle his body down onto a tiger skin, perhaps ignoring a forgotten pistol still hanging from his belt, to narrate his epic adventures to his untravelled audience... Nowadays, all it takes to reach Bombay is several thousands of feet in altitude: see the Mont Blanc to your left, Naples if the weather permits, here a desert, there the meanders of a river and, finally, hear the roar of the landing gear.
Not that we would wax nostalgic over the era of sailing vessels and Phileas Fogg. No, we simply hope that our travels will recapture all the marvel of journeying, will render our fellow travellers aware of the pathways blazed in our honor by the likes of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy the Geographer, Marco Polo - from Greece, to the kingdoms of India, and on to the conquest of the horizon.
The collection is dedicated to ancient Egyptian art (Predynastic Period - Old Empire - Middle Empire - New Empire - New Empire & Late Period - Late Period - Late & Greco-Roman Period - Greco-Roman Period - Coptic Period - 19th Century), to objects from Asia, Chinese (Shang Dynasty - Dynasty Western/Estern Zhou - Warring States Period - Han Dynasty - Wei Dynasty - Six Dynasties Period - Tang Dynasty - Song Dynasty - Yuan and Ming Dynasties - Qing Dynasty - 20th century) but also Indian (12th-17th century - 18th-19th century - 19th century - 20th century ), Tibetan, Japanese, Burma, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal.
This important personal collection of rare artifacts can be accessed online: Photographic Collection → Advanced search → MUDAC.
Fondation Jacques-Edouard Berger
Avenue de la Harpe 12
Case postale 249
Lectures ( each of the cycles mentioned has fifteen lectures ):