Museum Musings

15 12 2008

Well, I FINALLY made it to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and it was well worth the effort. Here I will give some of my impressions of the exhibits, and then of the museum as a whole (and as a concept) as well as a brief critique.
I really enjoyed the exhibits, especially the miniature mosaics—I couldn’t believe that someone could make art that small! Also, the art placed on needles and seeds—it was just unbelievable but beautiful. I also was amazed by the x-rays of plants that took on 3 dimensions when viewed through special lenses. Equally enjoyable was the Cat’s Cradle room devoted to string art; imagine, a museum that devotes an entire display to string art! Perhaps, though, my favorite was the display on folklore and folk medicines which showed treatments for mouth fungus (just stick a duck’s bill in your mouth!) and other equally bizarre things. It shows how easily we believe, and how the beliefs of today may be just as strange—we just don’t have the perspective to see them as strange yet.
The museum itself is unlike any other I have ever been to (and, not to be modest, I have been to many of the world’s greatest), and it was a refreshing change. There is an intimacy, as the displays are sequestered into semi-private areas. The house-like layout lends some familiarity and hominess, yet the dark interior also adds a layer of mystery. I loved the various ways the information was distributed through video, phones, lighting, sound effects, and special lenses, all designed to appeal to more than the visual and thus enrich the experience. Also, the way in which the pseudo-scientific and pop art is placed alongside more standard museum fare shows that not just the stuffy ivory tower stuff is worth study and enjoyment—museums should consider all aspects of life.
I also appreciated the way in which the viewer is a participant; these displays do not let you go quickly by, as in many museums. Instead, you are almost forced to sit and watch, listen to a tape, and make connections. While not a huge museum, I probably spent as much time as I have in some of the world-class venues I’ve visited because I had to listen and watch to understand the display.
Given the museum’s name, I was not sure what to expect, and the quirky title does reflect the quirky nature of the interior. In fact, as I was leaving, one of the other patrons asked the clerk a question I had wondered myself—were all of the displays equally true? That is, there seemed to be an attempt to put on a parody of museum displays in some places. The clerk responded that they were all equally “true,” but they did not preference one approach to art, science, technology, or “truth.” Thus, Noah’s ark was seen as equally worthy of consideration as x-rays of plants. Indeed, I appreciated the inclusion of religion throughout the museum, especially the diorama come to life of the vision of a saint who saw Christ in the antlers of a stag.
The museum reminds us to find beauty and wonder in the achievements of the unknown and lesser-known, in the cutting-edge as well as the established, and in the mystical and esoteric as well as the down to earth. I was intrigued by the one display on memory, and how the one theorist argued that true memory does not exist. This made me think of several of our readings this semester. While I disagree with his theory—of course we have memory—it was an interesting argument that both reified and expanded the museum’s message that knowledge is a slippery thing, and we must be careful in claiming to know anything for certain. I am hopeful I can go again, especially with my nieces and nephew.
Unfortunately, the museum is not very well suited to the handicapped; a lot of stairs and steps up and down, none of which is well-marked, especially in the darkened interior. Those with sight impairments would have some difficulty, and some of the spaces are not big enough for two people to pass easily. However, the price is more than reasonable, and most would enjoy the place.

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