Monday, June 16, 2008

T-rexes and a Throw of Dice

'Git yer tickets in advance' hollered the flyer from the museum in no uncertain terms. This was in advance of the opening of the newly renovated hall of Dinosaurs that had been closed to the public for three years. And so we did, bundling the whole family into the minivan after an early lunch in a raptorian frenzy to make it there at the appointed hour.

The diplodocus and apatosaurus (see photo) were now located in a large opened up four storey high hall, with windows for book browsers in the adjoining library to look through to the display. What a fantastic idea! It made me want to trot off to the library, just in order to peek at the diplodocus from there.

The T-rexes were back, restored to a more anatomically correct horizontally balanced position, snarling over the remnants of an edmontosaurus. The docent, happy enough to use his extensive training, explained to us that the one on the left was the Holotype for all T-rexes. It was the standard of comparison for all t-rexes that were dug up after it. Another interesting tidbit associated with it was that it was meant to be on loan from another museum in order to save it from possible bombing in WWII, but that having come to the Carnegie, it never went back. The Carnegie museum paid to acquire it and here it stayed ever since.

Then it was off through the creatures of the later Cretaceous and the Ice Age, followed by a peek into the Earth Theater, where to our surprise, we were shown a film with computer animated graphics of the Night of the Titanic. No Rose and Jack here, just the bare, unemotional facts, supplemented with some climate change pitch.

We wandered afterwards into the 'Life on Mars' exhibit of modern art and felt like aliens trying to make sense of earthling concepts almost immediately.

There was a line of people against the far end of the wall, waiting to enter what seemed like a large duct-taped entrance. My family joined the line immediately, while I demurred, not quite at ease with the museum guard's explanation that it was like a path into a cave. I spoke sotto voce to the docent hovering around "The line of people waiting almost look like part of the exhibit themselves, if it were some kind of performance art!" and she nodded in assent, a big grin on her face.

At the entrance was an arrangement of stacked Italian newspaper bundles interspersed with some in Arabic, covered with the seemingly random squiggles of lighted neon. From where I stood, I couldn't figure out what it said, until the last couple of words magically resolved into 'le hasard', meaning 'chance' in French. That did it. I marched up to the docent, this time with a question: "What does the neon tube say?"
"Did you notice the Fibonacci numbers in the other works by the same artist (Mario Mertz) - numbers climbing up the wall to end in what looked like a stuffed lizard? "
I nodded without comprehension in the least.
"This exhibit in the middle says "A throw of the dice can never abolish chance".
And off she went to talk to another docent, leaving me to puzzle over the meaning of the statement.

It was left to me to find out later that these mysterious lines were the work of French poet Stephane Mallarme, after whose inspiration Mertz came up with the art piece. The position of the words in the poem was curiously highlighted by the poet in a modernist ramble to make up the saying (see link). Mallarme stated in a preface himself to the poem that:
I would prefer that this Note was not read, or, skimmed, was forgotten; it tells the knowledgeable reader little that is beyond his or her penetration: but may confuse the uninitiated, prior to their looking at the first words of the Poem, since the ensuing words, laid out as they are, lead on to the last, with no novelty except the spacing of the text. The ‘blanks’ indeed take on importance, at first glance; the versification demands them, as a surrounding silence, to the extent that a fragment, lyrical or of a few beats, occupies, in its midst, a third of the space of paper.

Confusion to the uninitiated, it is, indeed. Count me among those!


Lekhni said...

Do you have to be "initiated" then, to understand a poem? What sort of initiation, I wonder. Some people just like to make things much more complicated than they should be. I, for one, will take this person at their word and not read the Note :)

On the dinosaurs, I have seen "Sue" and the hall of dinosaurs at the Field Museum. T-Rexes are amazing - you wonder what kind of world it was when such giants roamed (and if early man was also there..)

Sujatha said...

I think there's a parallel between modern(ist) poems and modern art. You either like it because you imagine that you have got it, or you don't because of not being able to get it.
Most of the art exhibits we saw fell, for us uninitiated 'janta', into the latter category, unfortunately.
Here's an example of modern art which I find entertaining and delightful, instead of puzzling. The duct tape cave which I did enter a little later was another of those weird "What the H... was the artist thinking?" moments, despite the grandiosity of its execution.

T-rexes did coexist with early man, as far as I can tell from the episodes of Flintstones that I watched. If it's on TV, it must be true, innit? And the Creationist Museum shows them right next to Noah's ark after all! ;)

Amit said...

And by the time it was dinosaurs' turn to board, the ark was already full. ;)
Or maybe the boarding plank broke because of their size. :)

Sujatha said...

That would be the fault of the diplodocus : 16 tons would make matchsticks of any wooden ramps. ;)