Hidden behind a small green door off Venice Boulevard in Culver City, California, the Museum of Jurassic Technology is a deceptively large space. The front door opens into a well lit gift shop that leads back into the depths of the darkened museum itself. The entrance fee is $8 for adults, $5 for students.
Beyond the gift shop lies a bizarre maze of quirky, odd displays shrouded in mostly darkness with patches of low lighting directly hitting the information placards and displays themselves. It was difficult at times to see the other patrons as they wandered through, checking out the various installments, which almost made you felt like you were somewhere you shouldn’t be, creeping around behind the scenes of a much larger production. At times, when I was trying to find the other members of my party, my head would construct this mini fantasy wherein I was being chased throughout the museum, unable to find a way out. It was delightfully creepy and pleasantly unsettling.
The surreality begins pretty much right away as you hear several distinct sounds – the repeated metallic cry from a small brass machine that makes corundum gemstones from powder, this wierd underwater burbling noise echoing out from the speakers near a small black and white display screen that featured movies of fruit bats licking fruit, and the sound of a guy making what I guess he thinks are the noises that small wild canids make. The combination is somewhat disorienting as you look around, trying to figure out what to check out first.
To the left of the fruit bat screen is an elaborate display about an X-ray bat that reportedly flies through walls. As you turn, there’s a collection of antlers from various animals, including a hair horn that supposedly once grew from the head of a woman named Mary Davis.
As I looked into the screen with the bats, I kept expecting the image to shift to the girl in the radiator dancing on wierd fleshy things that dropped from the ceiling. Imagery from Eraserhead stayed with me throughout most of the trip throughout the museum.
I then walked over to a clear box with what looked like a fox’s head in it. There were two optics that you could look through, but nothing special happened when I looked through them. Every few seconds, there would be this wierd growling and barking that sounded like a guy growling and barking. It seemed to echo out of a speaker suspended above the display. I completely didn’t get what this display was supposed to be, and there was no explanation whatsoever anywhere near it. I finally broke down and went to the guy in the gift shop to ask what it was supposed to be, and he replied, “Oh, is the video not working?”
Video? I thought to myself. “No, it’s not working.” I replied, thinking that once it was fixed, it might make more sense.
He goes out and fixes it, and when I look through the optics again, there’s now this tiny image of a guy sitting in a chair, barking, superimposed over the creature’s head. I couldn’t help it. I started laughing. Giggling, in fact. I kept giggling to myself every time I heard the barking, because these kinds of things are hilarious to me for some reason. Especially the completely inexplicable aspect of it. It was just so completely random that I adored it. I don’t know if this was supposed to be the installation’s desired result, but hey – I laughed. Job well done.
Upon closer research online, I found that the exhibit is apparently called “Voice of the American Gray Fox”, and the guy in the chair is a local voice-over actor who specializes in making fox noises, which actually makes it more hilarious, that there may or may not be some guy in LA that actually does this. The veracity of the installations in the museum remains to be seen, and apparently that’s a rather large part of the point, which further endears me to this particular museum.
Throughout the maze of installations are things such as an homage to American mobile homes in the 1930’s called Garden of Eden on Wheels: Collections From Los Angeles Mobile Home and Trailer Parks, two rows full of microscopes that show an assortment of tiny diatoms and butterfly wing scales arranged to create lovely floral displays, tiny sculptures of Napoleon and Pope John Paul II seated in the heads of needles that can only be viewed under a microscope and a collection of glass spheres filled with water in which small, odd wax figurines – both human and animal, are suspended, to name a few. The wax figures apparently stay exactly in the middle of the spheres due to magnetism.
The suspended figures were part of a larger collection of displays by Athanasius Kircher, a German 17th-century inventor, historian, philosopher, physicist, astronomer and Jesuit. Kircher had apparently also constructed a bell of wheels that would turn every couple of minutes, making an alarming, but charming racket as you walked through an area with different optics.
Down another hall, the echos of arias accompany a collection of old theatrical contraption diagrams and small displays of enormous theatrical contrivances (waves, floating griffins and the like that would enhance the performances of ages long past), and another room is filled with Stereo Floral Radiographs – a collection of x-rayed flowers, so as to view their inner anatomy. There are wooden hand held viewing appliances with which one can attempt to view the images in 3-D, but the effect really doesn’t come off quite that well.
I think my favorite exhibit was Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge, and Hypersymbolic Cognition: An exhibit of pre-scientific cures and remedies. A veritable cornucopia of possible folk remedies, Tell the Bees includes things such things as consuming dead mice on toast to address issues of “bed wetting or general incontinence of urine” (featured were two dead white mice on toast and what could reasonably be assumed to be ‘mouse pie’) or breathing from the beak of a duck to cure those “afflicted with thrush and other fungeous mouth or throat disorders”, among others (having the maternal unit in the house collect her fresh urine in the morning so as to sprinkle a small portion of it on the furniture, the family, etc) – as well as charming folk tales such as notifying the bees in your hives when someone has died or gotten married so there will be no jealousy or death within the hive.
We walked around inside for about an hour and a half, through a seemingly endless connection of tunnels, when we finally decided to head out. I needed to get back to Matilda so that I could get out to the Queen Mary.
If you’re out in the LA area – DO check this out. It really is spectacularly wierd and fun.