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Filmmaker Justinian Jampol Talks New Natural History Museum Exhibit, 'Becoming L.A.'

October 31, 2013

The Hollywood Reporter invited the founder-director of the Wende Museum, Justinian Jampol, for a walk-through of the Becoming Los Angeles exhibit at the Natural History Museum. Read the full article here.

During their walkthrough they stopped and noticed a moment in the exhibit. Here is the discussion:

"Look at this (two hexagonal cases with antique rifles facing away from one another). This reminds me of Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaners. It’s a really complicated, possibly overcomplicated way to display these two guns. Do you think that was the thinking there -- that you can’t just have a wall of guns? You are constantly competing with a kid's ability to be drawn to something.

And the aesthetic of it is quite artistic. There is no practical point for it to be like this. The reaction to that sort of competition has been for so many museums to do this video/digital/multimedia kind of thing. But they’re always going to lose that fight. Because your interactive module at the museum is never going to be able to compete with the array of digital interactive media in people’s lives. I actually like the fact that they play that down here. I’m not against the use of multimedia in the museum. But I think there was a time where it was like the wave of the future and everything was touch screens, stuff like that. I like to see an installation like these guns there – that’s a cool sculpture."

We really appreciate the compliment. And wanted to take this opportunity to share the thinking behind this little exhibit with some sketches.

This first sketch shows the traditional method for presenting this idea. As Justinian Jampol puts it "...your mind would immediately go to thoughts of flea markets, of junk, garages and attics. And nobody wants to be what the Smithsonian was condemned as being -- like America’s attic." For the design of Becoming Los Angeles we strived to reduce the elements to their essence. Not for the purpose of being minimalistic, but to focus the visitors' attention on the core narrative. The minimalism is an honest byproduct of this design approach. In the example, the best possible way to say "war" is not with every object in the museum's collection attributed to this idea, but instead to choose only those objects that distill this concept to its essence - two rifles pointed at eachother.


The first iteration of this distilled idea was sketched with the rifles as if they were shouldered.


The next version tipped the guns on their edge, as if the United States (on the top) and Mexico (on the bottom) were superimposed over an invisible map.


Here is the final installation that Justinian Jampol and Christopher Wyrick discuss in the article. Standing nearly 10 feet tall and dramatically lit from the inside, as if a flash of light is streaming from the rifles' barrels.

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