The Museum of Jurassic Technology
Blue Canvas, Vol 1, No 1, June 2009
Imagine going to what you believe to be a high-end seafood restaurant and ordering scallops, and what the waiter brings out is a strange amalgam of fish bits, computer chips and bones, a hazy stew replete with flashing lights and bizarre signage that reads "turn left at the carrot on the far right of your plate for a good time." You're left wondering if this is the purest culinary experience you've ever had, or did you just wander into a haunted fishmonger's reliquary? Either way, you're intrigued. The Museum of Jurassic Technology describes itself as a "specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the Lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities." Right away, contradictions abound as the Lower Jurassic ended more than 150 million years before the appearance of hominoids, long before modern technology, and as for the artifacts represented here, one can never be quite sure what's real and what's not, and really does it matter?
In the 18th Century, cabinets of curiosities, called Kunstkammer, or theaters of the world, represented a symbolic attempt on the part of the patron whose collection it was to control the known world through its indoor, microscopic reproductions of the unknown, the mysterious and the inexplicable. The brainchild of David and Diana Wilson and located at 9341 Venice Blvd., the museum exists as a transitional space for alternative thinking, a unique and highly stylized utopia of fractured, strangely alluring concepts and ideas.
There are several permanent exhibitions including the Napoleon Library, which presents a series of objects tangentially related to Napoleon Bonaparte. For example, there is a framed series of flora and fauna taken from Napoleon's tomb at St. Helena. The object itself holds no real value, but is of ostensible importance in that it operates metaphorically as a loaded symbol for the viewer's own imagination. Most of the exhibitions featured at the museum function not as literal physical representations of a person or place or an historical event, but as partially fabricated, vaguely histrionic narratives that may or may not have some basis in truth. Certain works in the museum's permanent collection speak directly to this half-truth approach including an exhibit on household myths of years past (if a child holds a dying creature in his hands, he will develop a tremor in the hands as an adult). Obviously this is not literally true, but the haunted spectacle of fraud is alluring nevertheless.
Other exhibits including a collection devoted to trailer park culture entitled "Garden Of Eden on Wheels," smacks of Diane Arbus' discomfiting imagery. As with Arbus's best work, there is an element here of extreme disbelief, bordering on a kind of psychotic voyeurism. "Rotten Luck: The Decaying Dice of Ricky Jay" is another exhibition featured at the museum that utilizes the subject of decomposition and destabilization of materials to create a dialogue between the known and the unknown, the obvious and the mystical. The dice exist here as objects of desire, vessels of magic, that have begun to biochemically shift and mutate much like an aging Adonis, a movie star whose beauty has faded, yet still retains the imprint of sexual desire.
Finally, the Museum of Jurassic Technology has nothing to do with any literal technological employment or how things work in space and time, but the mechanization of imagination, the suspension of disbelief in the service of a stranger, more wondrous investigation into a deeper human consciousness, a longing for the impossible made tangible and real.