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The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Forum > California Diary

Lee-looking-profound-1 by Artbasher

The Museum of Jurassic Technology came highly recommended by a friend as something "uniquely LA". He's lived here for four years, so can say that with some authority. I'm not fit to make such a judgement, however, it truely is a bizzare and awesome place.

The Museum has nothing to do with "Jurassic" in it's technical sense (200 Million to 176 Million years ago), but rather in the sense of antiquated, extinct, passed by evolution. It looks very much like a normal museum (although perhaps a bit darker), but the exhibits are quite differnt. These include stories of semi-mad geniuses who kind of got it right but actually got it very wrong (in activites such as building a 700 metre foot bridge accross an enourmous waterfall), various devices for transposing elements, stereoscopic photographs, microscopic artwork, paintings of all the dogs that have gone into space, a movie OBSHEE DELO (The common Task), which "interweaves tales of an impoverished, yet influential philosopher-librarian, Nicolai Federov, the accomplishments and tribulations of Russia's historic Pulkovo Observatory, and the life and work of Constantine Tsiolkovski, whose inspired vision of human space travel and habitation changed the course of humanity." There is also the Tula Tea Room which serves tea and cookies.

The content is weird. So is the way it is presented. The museum is mostly filled with a series of 19th Century style wonder-cabinets. In numerous places you can push a button to listen to information about the exhibits - these are almost all played via a telephone which you pick up to listen. I didn't try talking back, but it does make you think that you are not just on the receiving end of the whole thing. Everything is layed out immaculately and lit like a "real" museum, however, if you look at the light fittings, you will see shards of broken mirror are often incorporated to reflect one light source onto multiple objects. In one place, there are several circular holes in the wall, where you can see the cheap back-stage set up.

The tone of the text and audio is also bizzare. Told completely straight-faced, at first you think it must all be lies, it's so ridiculous. But then as you listen, the claims that are being made are not that extraordinary. Nowhere is it claimed that the transposing devices can actually transpose anything. But nor is it stated that they can't. These stories are told in the manner of lies. It's the straight story of these people and things, who inevitably end up doing nothing spectacular. You get excited, are expecting to hear more and then are dissapointed. This points out and makes fun of our usual expectations of what a museum does - shows and preserves what is important. These things aren't important, they're weird, but weirdly fascinating. And that makes them important too.

A book about the museum by Lawrence Weschler, Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, finds many of the exhibits are falicious and exagerated, but that others were entirely true. As the New York Times review points out, what is important is "you can't tell which parts are true and which invented" and "despite all the trickery and illusion, your final impression is that you have been exposed to deep and lasting truths."

The museum is strikingly reminicent of HSP's recent imagined history project, where the gallery has invented, documented and exhibited a hundred year history (including 3d photos!).

A great experience and far more rewarding than the LACMA, where the collection is rather mediocre. When an institution tries to take on all that Authority and High Culture and doesn't do such a good job, or even doesn't do quite as well as its neighbours, it's dissapointing. The Museum of Jurassic Technology by contrast has a weird and uncommon vision which does exactly what it sets out to do and is a rewarding experience.


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2 comments since 15 Mar 2007
dear artbasher
thanks for the postcard! the hsp fabricated history continues to confuse and allude in your absence.
hearts from hsp
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
You're welcome. I look forward to being confused on my return.
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