I’d seen the old-fashioned delivery van, with The Museum of New Ideas lettered in beautifully elegant typography on its chocolate paint job, and always wondered: what could be in it and who did it belong to?
The words Mobile Exhibition and Photographic Studio in a much smaller script offered a few hints, but I never saw anyone leave or enter the van. It was always parked around Main Street just east of downtown. Other vehicles around it seemed dowdy in comparison.
I was beginning to think it would always be a mystery until I saw a small handbill at the West End Library advertising a screening of Andrew Milne: Dreams of Machines on Thu. Aug. 18. Patrons were also invited to a pop-up exhibit of his Museum of New Ideas, which would be parked adjacent to the library. Finally, the inside of the delivery van was going to be revealed.
Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who was curious as it was standing room only for the 6:30 screening of the movie. The library ended up playing it in a continuous loop all evening.
Patrick Lowe, local filmmaker with the Winnipeg Film Group, won a LAIFF (Los Angeles Independent Film Festival) award in May 2015 for the film. It was visually striking, fast-paced, and did a good job of explaining Milne’s motivations, machines, and art practice. Milne has been called a modern-day Renaissance man. He has studied and worked as a mechanical, electrical, and computer designer, as well as a contemporary dancer.
Though it’s a great introduction to Andrew, his work is very experiential. That’s where the Museum of New Ideas comes in. When he opened the back door to the museum, a tiny set of stairs folded down and he strung up a velvet rope between stanchions to create a defined entrance way.
Before I checked out the exhibit inside, he offered to take my picture with his photocopier. A low-tech device consisting of a lidless copier with a fresnel lens and a mirror on top, the photocopier functions as an instant print camera.
The lens faced me and captured my image while the mirror reflected it back to the copier which then printed the image. Mine was typical of the quality of the pictures: a bit grainy and dark, but with character. The next step would have been been to take eight different pictures of myself in different poses and insert them into the Praxinoscope to create an instant animation of myself.
Inside the tiny, pristine museum were three beautifully crafted machines that were as much art as they were machine. An analog augumented reality viewer and a multi-perspective microscope as well as another zoetrope. All three are cutting-edge media from the 19th century pre-electronic world.
Outside the van was a climb-inside camera obscura – and many people did. German astronomer Johannes Kepler first used the term “camera obscura” in 1604. Leonardo da Vinci had described a pinhole camera prior to that. Andrew’s version may have been big enough to climb inside, but it worked using the same principles.
“The technologies that we use – how do we evaluate how they affect us? We have no way of asking the questions – even having a conversation about them,” Andrew mused.
“Are you Andrew? How do you open and close the shutters?” asked 11 year old Asher Newman-Burroughs, interrupting a philosophical conversation.
Over 150 people came out to learn more about Andrew and his machines. I left wondering about the direction our society was moving in. We’re so dependent on technology that we’ve lost touch with the basic mechanical as well as scientific principles behind our (always latest and best version) gadgets. After talking to Milne, I think that was one of the points he was making with this exhibition.