Five Nights in LA

It’s like being in a David Lynch or Coen brothers movie.

My motel room (Culver City Travelodge) is just like the stakeout motel rooms of crime thrillers, with its own front door off a common balcony. It’s got several ‘room dividers’ for you to hold your breath behind, trying to avoid the immanent shootout.

The television is the size of a dining table. (I read on a bus shelter advertisement that Americans watch an average of 13 years of TV in their life.)

I arrived into LAX after a reasonable flight from Heathrow, having taken a risk on seat 33K. Bulk head. A little extra legroom but this is where bassinettes are fitted. The screaming infant was on the other side but it still required my most zen-like ‘letting go’.

Everyone told me: you will need a car. Even after the first day I could see that this was wise advice. However, I wasn’t looking forward to driving an automatic for the first time, on the wrong side of the road, in a hire car, in one of the most traffic heavy cities on the planet, in the dark, tired from an 11-hour sleepless journey. I couldn’t believe it when I was presented with a Nitro four by four SUV, hilariously described by some online retailers as ‘compact’. It feels like I’m driving a small bus.

There is no induction. They just tell you which lot the car is in and that the keys are in the ignition. It was already completely dark by the time I got there and in the unlit carpark I was at a loss even to find the, erm, light switch. I had to keep opening and shutting the driver’s door for 20 seconds of illumination in order to try and locate the relevant controls. But after a jolty start and a kind (although rather loud) explanation from some random guy that my jerking was probably due to the fact that I had my foot on the emergency break (it’s not a clutch Joshua, this is an automatic car) I managed to follow the sat-nav to aforesaid motel.

I’m in LA for just 5 nights. The main reason is to visit The Museum of Jurassic Technology and interview the Founder Director David Wilson for a research project I am making into artist leaders. As the conundrum of its name would suggest, The Museum of Jurassic Technology is something of an anomaly. How to describe what it is? Well, from the outside it looks a bit like a, well, I’m not sure it looks like anything much other than itself. Here it is:

Located in the historic Palms district of Culver City, Los Angeles at a the busy intersection of Venice Boulevard and Main Street, this easy to miss exterior hides a tardis of expertly detailed glass fronted vitrines, holographic film projections, audio guides and scale models. The themes are diverse yet connected (the connections are themselves part of the wonder to be untangled and discovered). Memory, the history of the museum, miniaturisation, the common man, the wonder of discovery, the art of science: a particular favourite of mine was the authoritative film on the life of Hagop Sandaldjian who developed an innovative method for the ergonomics of violin fingering and was a miniaturist in extremis. The film is screened next to several of his ‘sculptures’, which include a detailed anatomically accurate figure of Napoleon in the eye of a needle. You can only view it through a microscope.

You are never entirely sure of what you are looking at. In this way The Museum of Jurassic Technology proselytises the value to be found in doubt, and asks us to question institutional authority more generally. But this is not a museum of fairytales. It is not depicting fiction. It’s more that fact is always presented, in Wilson’s own words for describing the museum itself, as more of a “grey area”.

For nearly 30 years David Wilson has been adding to the museum displays with painstaking dedication and has developed an international following. It has the same status in the museum (and art and science) worlds, as cult movies do in film. It was a pleasure and a privilege to talk with him and the fulfilment of a long time aspiration to visit his museum.

(If you are interested in finding out more about The Museum of Jurassic Technology, then get hold of a copy of Lawerence Weschler’s 1995 book Mr Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder. It is amusing and accessible. It still feels fresh and remains in print.)

Five minutes walk from The Museum of Jurassic Technology are The Culver Studios, where some of the greatest films of all time have been shot, including Citizen Kane and Gone With The Wind. Although its umpteen ‘stages’ are still used for shoots, as I walked past, it was the studio building itself that seemed to be the star of a giant film rig, with enormous camera crane.

Today, my one and only full ‘day off’, I decided to leave Los Angeles by the famous Highway 1, through to Malabu (home to half of the Hollywood A-list) and up the coast to Santa Barbara. It’s amazing that in just 45 minutes on leaving one of the most urban of all conurbations in the world, you can be in wilderness. This hurriedly taken photograph by the side of the road is unfortunately a poor representation of the scenery, which is epic. The Pacific is on one side and Los Padres National Forest on the other.

Oh, and I forgot to mention 21 degrees. Back to scarf and hat tomorrow.