Monday, January 7, 2008
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
It's not a new museum, and it's not one of the major Los Angeles attractions, but the Museum of Jurassic Technology is my new favorite Southern CA oddity. Don't get hung up on what the name "means." What it means is: you are entering another world, where symbolic language holds as much importance as literal, where the poetic and thematic beauty of people and objects trumps their traditional place in the hierarchy of significance.
It's not the butterfly-scale mosaics that only become visible under a microscope, the sculptures of Goofy and Napoleon nestled in the eyes of needles, the room dedicated to Kirchner serenaded by a "Bell Wheel," the decomposing dice, the replica of Mary Saughall's horn, or even the plaque describing the problem of historical representations of the "Battle of Pavia" that make the museum such a necessary destination. It's the fact that all of these things are displayed and interpreted in ways that completely call into question our notions of (1) what is knowledge, and (2) what is important to know.
I recommend the museum for its content, absolutely. I fancy myself an amateur conisseur of independent, idiosyncratic museums, and there's no more eclectic, disturbing, and surreal collection of objects and stories on display, in that volume, that I know of. I recommend the place for the slightly menacing tea room, where even in bright sunlight the shades stay drawn, candles are lit, and a brass samovar steams with free English tea. I recommend it for its sweet little gift shop and reasonably priced publications.
But mostly, I want everyone I know to visit the museum to have their minds blown by how disorienting and shocking it is to be told, quietly and implicitly, that you are an impatient, narrow-minded, uneducated person, by virtue of the fact that you are tempted to listen to only two of five interpretive recordings on Georffrey Sonnabend's Theory of Forgetting, that you don't understand how to represent logic problems visually, that you are not spatially aware enough to make a new kind of cat's cradle, even with string in your hands, when a video shows you how. Or maybe you are, in which case, I am already impressed.
I continually asked myself, "why does this matter?" and continually the answer came: "because someone noticed it." Not everything in the museum is even "real," by empirical standards. In fact, there is an entire collection of "vulgar knowledge," a room dedicated to wives' tales and superstitions that presents each as simply something that was or is believed, with no discussion of whether the belief had been debunked. The debunking is irrelevant. The fact that at one time, people sent a child out to talk to the bees in the hive after a relative had died, the fact that that child was supposed to recite lines of verse to the bees, the sheer magical quality of that action, compounded by the magical quality of it being practiced for many years over a large geographical region, is the "mattering" of the museum.
I've never been in a museum that so carefully destroyed my notions of historical importance, so validated my sense of literary and aesthetic wonder, and so thoroughly disrupted my ideas about what is normal in this world.
Visit them! www.mjt.org