Who: David Wilson
Affiliation: Founding director, the Museum of Jurassic Technology
Location: Culver City, California
David Wilson wants to make people wonder. As an artist, inventor, and the curator of the Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT), he organizes and presents material in ways that help people stretch beyond the familiar — and that ultimately stretch the familiar role of the museum.
The MJT houses a collection of curiosities that are as detailed as they are distinct. There are marvels of natural history, such as a display of antlers from gazelles, antelope, and one Mary Davis, who apparently grew horns; strange antiquated technologies, such as the Boules of Conundrum, a device used to create man-made gems; and evidence of human ingenuity on a microscopic scale, such as an image of Pope John Paul II sculpted into a strand of hair. What holds together such an eclectic collection? "The museum is about following threads of inexhaustible interests," says Wilson.
Unlike traditional museums, the MJT relies more on ideas than on objects. It's about exploring how we come to know things rather than displaying what we know. "When you think about the word 'museum,' " says Wilson, "the root is Mousa — as in the Muses. That's an important concept for us. We want to create a place to be inspired."
One exhibit speaks directly to the power of inspiration. It details the lives of Madelena Delani, an accomplished opera singer who suffered from short-term memory loss, and Geoffrey Sonnabend, an expert in neurophysiology, and it documents how their lives intertwined, even though they never met. Shortly after hearing Delani's final performance, Sonnabend was inspired to write a three-volume treatise that challenged conventional ideas about memory.
Opera and brain science? "Things that don't quite make sense can be our most valuable tools," says Wilson. "You don't wonder about things that you've got down cold."
Visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology on the Web (www.mjt.org).
A version of this article appeared in the July 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.