Week 14: Cultural Excavations

Douglas Crimp discusses postmodernism as an “anything goes” attitude that extends beyond the production to include the process of viewing art as well. Similarly, the Museum of Jurassic Technology challenges the traditional idea of a museum. If you visit, it is likely you will be the only one in there– giving you the experience of private tour of the museum. The MJT almost has a complete disregard for the traditional methods of museum authority- meticulous presentation, exhaustive captions, hushed lighting, and state-of-the-art technology (heating, lighting, security). David Wilson (founder and director) explained to Lawrence Weschler on his first visit that: “We’re definitely interested in presenting phenomena that other natural-history museums seem unwilling to present.”

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Connections can be made to the work of Dunne and Raby in critical design, which asks people to view things in a new or unexpected way. Museums such as the Met or the Natural History Museum can be compared to affirmative design. That is, they conform to the general publics idea of what a museum should be, there is a natural order and a familiarity to the experience of visiting those museums. Even the Museum of Natural History that presents the so-called wonders of history- but it does so in a very linear fashion that mimics the textbooks we read in elementary school- dinosaurs, whales, monkeys… even the oddest of exhibitions are “normalized” by the familiar experience of entering an established institution.
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But like critical design, the MJT acknowledges the other possible histories. Raby suggested that critical design aimed to push the limits of the lived experience—I would say that is exactly what the MJT is doing. At the very least, it is certainly a conversation starter. Raby further suggests that “We don’t have to actually use the proposed products ourselves, it is by imagining them being used that they have an effect on us… a slight strangeness is key.” They are designed to provide mental pleasure and stimulate the mind—as are the exhibitions at the MJT.

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