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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Open to interpretation

By Clara Polley

Jan. 10, 2008 9:09 p.m.

For those willing to accept the unknown or the unusual, the Museum of Jurassic Technology sets the stage for unexpected encounters.

Located on a busy street corner on Venice Boulevard, the museum, which was founded in 1989, takes a different approach from many modern didactic museums. Among the museum’s wide-ranging exhibits, there are fossils, a history of L.A. motor homes, oil paintings on Soviet space docks and superstitious remedies, such as the consumption of mice on toast.

David Wilson, founder and director of the museum, said its design is inspired by the history of the institution of the museum itself.

“We look back to the early days of the museum when museums weren’t one particular thing, such as art,” he said.

“Museums have become so focused, but we think there’s also a place for the museum as an encyclopaedic institution.”

Wilson explained that this approach allows the viewer to interpret every exhibit on his or her own level. The visitor is invited to engage freely with these unusual objects, sounds and installations, but will oftentimes not find answers to questions that might arise.

“We like people to find themselves in a place where they kind of have to create their own truth. And I think we find most people appreciate that, but there are some people that say “˜Wait a minute, your job is to tell me what’s true,'” he said.

“We don’t think that’s our job,” Wilson said. “Our job is to put you in a place where you have to construct it, do that work and construct that for yourself.”

The name of the museum is part of Wilson’s effort to inspire inquiry, since the words “Jurassic” and “Technology” demonstrate a clear paradox ““ how can the term technology be applied to an era where technology did not exist and dinosaurs populated the planet?

But to Wilson, this paradox prepares the viewer for the complex exhibits the museum presents. For example, one exhibit features the work of 17th century inventor Athanasius Kircher, whose optical illusions are on display.

“We wanted a name which would reflect the experience of (people) coming to the museum, and we were interested in ways of knowing that are oftentimes different from the standard approaches to accumulation of knowledge,” Wilson explained. “And oftentimes the most valuable forms of knowledge are contradictory, and the relationship of the knowledge ambiguous.”

One of the museum’s representatives, Alexis Hyman, explained that the museum aims to encourage visitors’ active interpretations.

“What sets the Museum of Jurassic Technology apart from many other museums is its endemic and ever-implicit linking of the personal to the universal,” she said.

This emphasis on the visitor’s experience is reinforced by the seemingly disorganized layout of the rooms, through which the visitors roam without direction, creating their own order of encounter with the collections.

“In some museums you have to follow arrows, like in an IKEA store. I think that we are very much open to every visitor forming their own experience, which can be extremely different from one person to the next. And some of that is the path that you find,” Wilson said.

Allen F. Roberts, UCLA World Arts and Cultures professor, has taken his classes to the museum.

“The Museum of Jurassic Technology is a fascinating place ““ in the earlier sense of that word that refers to being captivated by something,” he said. “As one winds among the dimly lit transitions within the space, it is as though one were moving from one thought to another, in a kind of stream-of-consciousness.”

At the end of the day, the Museum of Jurassic Technology hopes to encourage curiosity and pure excitement.

“It is safe to say that no one visits the Museum of Jurassic Technology and emerges the same person ““ bored, jaded or simply too cool,” Roberts said.

“It is a place of inspiration where ideas will be born that could carry one down very different paths than ever imagined.”

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Clara Polley
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