Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Napoleon in the Eye of a Needle
“No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again”

In 1959, California resident David Wilson bought the ground floor of a Culver City building to establish a business specializing in tile-flooring. While seemingly innocuous, this business venture housed the seedlings of a great uncovering. Buried under the floorboards and uncovered during renovation was a plan for “Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter” by Geoffrey Sonnabend. Wilson then proceeded to tack the fading diagram in the building’s storefront. Soon after his tiling company opened its doors, masses made pilgrimages to view the odd illustration. Some even donated their own objects of curiosity; with that, The Museum of Jurassic Technology was born.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology’s founding myth is in Lawrence Weschler’s book, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology. Rather, I should say that it is believed to be in the book, which incidentally, has been checked out of the library for the past week.
This dark and curious museum impacted me more than any other museum or alternative art space that we visited on our pilgrimage to the great cultural capital, Los Angeles. The museum is a hybrid: part natural history museum, part art museum, two parts cabinet of curiosity. At the center of it all, the space serves as institutional critique. Can I even use that phrase anymore? Regardless of how passé the categorization of challenging the institution has become, it is an appropriate framework here. The Museum of Jurassic Technology examines the relationship between objects of contemplation (many of which are reproductions of other non-visual materials) and discursive spaces.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology has a realized presence— a narrative weaved together from anonymous letters to the astrologers of Mount Wilson, ferns from Napolean’s first grave on St. Helena, Soviet dogs in space. The narrative rings clear in the over abundance of context. Wall text, videos, and sound recordings fill the darkened corridors and illuminate the oddities on display. The foreignness, and often absurdity, of the exhibitions and their contexts reveal what is lurking in the dusty corners of every museum or site of cultural production. In a time when the author is believed dead and postproduction (appropriation) is the name of the game, such strong, non-traditional articulations exhume discursivity. The content of discourse too digs up forgotten tales and broader histories of knowledge.

Time travel to 1997

Rebecca Ahrens

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