From 14 June 2022 to 5 March 2023, the Cité presents Industrial Evolutions, a temporary exhibition that explores the "new industrial world" and its impact on mankind.
The "Industrial Revolution" – generally accepted as a historical truth, has become part of our everyday language and refers to the idea that there was an abrupt change in production methods. It has played a key role in constructing a collective narrative that begins with the "invention" of the steam engine by James Watt in Great Britain in 1769. When we take a closer look, we can see that industrialisation is a slow phenomenon that began well before the 18th century and is not tied to any particular region. It has very little to do with a revolution... rather it's all about "industrial evolution". This is what the exhibition at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie aims to show, focusing as much on permanence as on change.
Industrial Evolutions reflects on the process of industrialisation and gives us the keys
to understanding this complex and vast subject, spanning the past, present and future and touching on all areas of human activity, which are now more interdependent than ever. The artistic and educational installations give visitors a contemplative experience that allows them to understand the changes of today by comparing them with those of yesterday. They are then invited to question the duality of an industry that helps people live better but at the same time causes concern.
Images projected on large screens set the scene and situate us in time. From London's historic pea-soupers – a mixture of fog and coal smoke – to a digital cloud represented against a blue sky, the contrast is striking. Transformed landscapes, standardisation and accumulation, industrial locations, images of workers and networks show us the complexity of today's industrial world and the lack of clarity that surrounds situations of great change.
Two installations then reveal the increase in production and consumption and the changing face of industry. An augmented apartment demonstrates the enormous scale of the production lines and the complexity of the industrial sectors behind everyday objects. Further on, a lenticular installation shows the transformations over a century of a major site in French industrial history, PSA-Sochaux.
The steam engine, the washing machine, the smartphone, the tin can, the drone, the contraceptive pill and the T-shirt are reminders that the production of objects is one of the purposes and reasons for existence of industry. We transform the world by making objects, which in turn transform us.
From the mine to the factory to the digital platform, this space underlines the fact that employment and industrial activity are intrinsically linked. It reveals the transformations in the organisation of work and the metamorphosis of industry, while showing
the coexistence and proliferation of production methods.
What if Karl Marx talked to Steve Jobs? And Elon Musk to René Descartes?
A film stages a debate between historical figures whose ideas and speeches have marked the history of industrial activity. These narratives correspond to two different visions, depending on the teller: technology and industrialisation are either perceived as threats to mankind and sources of enslavement or, in contrast, as solutions to all our ills and a means of emancipation.
Visitors then discover a large suspended sphere illustrating the rebound effect (or Jevons paradox). This installation shows how technological improvements, which increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, lower its cost and consequently lead to
an increase in the total consumption of that resource. Instead of consumption decreasing, it never stops increasing.
The exhibition ends with a curtain-raise on the new hyper-industrialised world. This highlight presents the gigantic, invisible infrastructures of digital technology: satellites, undersea cables and data centres. A spectacular 270° video projection reveals these fascinating infrastructures, with their high environmental cost, and unveils a new world state: the hyper-industrialisation of the planet.
Accompanying the exhibition
Industrial Evolutions exhibition journal