A traveling themed exhibition at The Really Small Museum’s “14th Corner Contemporary,” 1311 Harvey, Austin, Texas, July 2022. Listen to the 12 minute audio tour here. Now Closed.
The Anthropocene Sky (Miniature Replica).—In our backyard, at the top of an empty pole, the whole planet’s Anthropocene atmosphere is on display! Beginning with Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer,* several teams of geologists have endorsed a new geological era called the Anthropocene inaugurated by the industrial revolution and massive fossil fuel consumption. The new era is a collection of collections ranging from the sky, oceanic garbage gyres, and soil ecologies on every continent with trace radiation from atomic testing. The Anthropocene inaugurates a conceptual era in which humans are no longer considered to be unnatural or alien agents in the ecological realm, but rather an inept species dominating earth ecosystems at every scale.
*Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene,’” Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000):17-18. See also Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” Environmental Humanities 6 (2015):159-165.
Incubator Air (Replica).—Shortly after immigrating to the US in 1903, MNAE co-founder Mme. Mercury Curie worked at Coney Island’s Luna Park for a season as a wet nurse in Dr. Martin Couney’s incubator display. Couney had exhibited premature infants in incubators at World’s Fairs before being invited to open a permanent display at Luna Park in 1903. In 1904 he opened another display in Dreamland. For a quarter fee, visitors could see the tiny babies sleeping in their heated glass and metal cabinets, or being fed milk through their nostrils by trained caretakers. Curie collected this sample of warm incubator air and an infant nightie at the end of the 1905 season, when Couney sent the babies to Cornell University’s New York Hospital for winter. Dreamland burned down in 1911 and did not reopen, but Couney’s Luna Park display operated at Coney Island until 1943, when the New York Hospital finally opened a neonatal ward specially equipped to handle premature births.
Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rolled Russian Manuscript Cigarette & Marilyn Monroe’s Last Smoked Cigarette.—Indigenous people of the Americas have cultivated and smoked leaves of tobacco plants for over three millinea. Europeans brought tobacco to the Old World in the mid-16th century where it became a consumer industry by the 1700s. On the right in our display, one can see the last cigarette rolled and smoked by Marilyn Monroe, acquired and donated by a hotel sanitary worker, Mr. Atwick. On the left is the last remaining fragment of a lost manuscript, rolled into cigarettes and smoked by Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary critic and linguist. In the words of novelist Paul Auster, “During the German invasion of Russia in World War II, [Bakhtin] smoked the only copy of one of his manuscripts, a book-length study of German fiction that had taken him years to write. One by one, he took the pages of his manuscript and used the paper to roll cigarettes, each day smoking a little more of the book until it was gone.”*
*Paul Auster, The Locked Room, in The New York Trilogy (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1994), pp.377–378.
Orgone Accumulator.—You might notice a feeling of rejuvenation just by stepping within the atmospheric range of our miniature orgone accumulator cone! Jewish-Ukrainian psychoanalyst and compulsive inventor Wilhelm Reich studied with Freud before developing his own theories on the force behind life in general: orgone radiation. Reich theorized orgone as an all-pervasive form of physical energy—a sort of electricity for organic machines—with a “negatively entropic” pulsion that draws living matter into ever more complex forms of cellular order. After publishing The Mass Psychology of Fascism in 1933, Reich escaped Nazi Germany to Denmark and Sweden where he conducted his first experiments with what would become orgone energy. Among his orgone experiments, he proposed testing the visual phenomena of seeing bluish dots of light behind closed eyes. Could these luminous specks be motes of orgone, or are they simply subjective feedback from the organism itself? Reasoning that we “cannot feel or phantasy anything which does not actually exist in one form or another,” Reich wondered “whether such definite phenomena as the light impressions one can have with one’s eyes closed do not reflect a reality after all.” This line of research led him to invent an “orgonoscope” capable of more clearly rendering another unexplained phenomena, “the flickering in the sky.”* When his visa renewals were denied by both Denmark and Sweden, Reich settled in America in 1939 and continued building orgone machines (while developing psychoanalytic practices like character analysis and vegetotherapy, both of which combined “the talking cure” with touch and breathing exercises). Reich’s cloudbuster produced rain by orchestrating atmospheric streams of orgone, and his accumulator offered an orgone-saturated atmosphere to rejuvenate the body. But after an accumulator was shipped to a cancer patient across state lines, the therapeutic device channeled the Food and Drug Administration’s wrath, landing Reich in jail. In addition to a two-year sentence, the FDA ordered all of Reich’s orgone research, publications, and machines destroyed. Reich mysteriously died a day before his parole in 1959; a year later, a New York incinerator made ashes of what remained of six tons of his papers and research, burned by the FDA.
* Wilhelm Reich, The Discovery of the Orgone. Vol. 2, The Cancer Biopathy, trans. Theodore P. Wolfe (New York: Orgone Institute Press, 1948), pp.84-89.
Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley’s Childhood Snow Shovel (Miniature Replica) & Snow Crystal Photomicrographs.—Shovel on loan from the Snow Research Conservation Society; photographic reprints purchased from Vermont Snowflakes, in association with the Jericho Historical Society. As a child, Wilson A. Bentley marveled at the crystals falling from the puffy, gray Vermont sky to accumulate in the snow drifts he tidied up with this little snow shovel. His inquisitive fascination led him to develop a method for capturing the fleeting, ornate forms of snow crystals using a hybrid microscope-camera. Likewise, he learned to mimic bird and animal sounds on his violin, although this research project enjoyed a much smaller audience in Bentley’s lifelong neighbors in Jericho, VT. In 1885, aged 19, Bentley snapped history’s first snow crystal photomicrograph on his father’s Jericho farm. He went on to take 5,300 more photos before his 1931 death from pneumonia, contracted after walking home through a blizzard. Offering evidence from over 40 years of collecting, Bentley “verified that nearly all snowflakes are hexagonal in shape and that no two of them are alike,” so earning the nickname Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley.* He wrote articles for the New York Times that rhapsodized about the unique designs produced by water in its various molecular structurations – as clouds, dew, hoarfrost, and snow crystals. In describing the work of nature’s “unseen molecular artists” Bentley’s prose conjure fantastical metaphors: ice crystals on a window become “a bit of lace of elaborate design, or a gleaming feather worthy to adorn my lady’s hat.”** Bentley concluded his articles by detailing how he produced his photographs so that readers themselves might experiment. Bentley’s photographic activity overlapped with drastic transformations in American fashion, from the lush rococo of the late Victorian era to the frilly art deco of the calamitous ‘20s. He ceaselessly extolled the design possibilities to be gleaned from his snow crystal photos: “metal workers as well as wallpaper manufacturers are beginning to realize their value and there should be a great field of usefulness for them here. They also seem well adapted for use in designing patterns for porcelain or chinaware, glassware, etc.… Only recently Dr. Denman Ross, lecturer in the theory of pure design at Harvard University, purchased a large number for classroom use.”*** Bentley encountered every snow crystal as a sublime object worthy of aesthetic and scientific desire. His research notes include telegraphic observations on weather patterns and crystal formations alongside enchanted, breathless passages on “the experience of the search for new forms” of snow crystals.**** Bentley’s prose break into a tenderly stuttering ecstasy fixated on capturing the ephemeral:
A [snow crystal] just like this one may never be isolated again. The concern, amounting to intense desire. Solicitude. To perpetuate … the image of each rare gem in the photograph, before its matchless beauty is forever lost (to us), is an experience so rare, so truly delightful, that once undergone is never forgotten.… After the storm is over, … with what eagerness the dark room is sought, do we seek the dark, to develop and bring out these latent images … in all their matchless beauty & complexity of design, under the influence of the magical chemical baths. Perpetuate for all time for our own delight & to give pleasure to others.
*“Wilson A. Bentley, snow expert, dead,” New York Times, December 24, 1931.
**Wilson A. Bentley, “Jack Frost designs jewels of his own: A consummate winter artist, he exhibits his crystal treasures on snow bank and window pane,” New York Times, February 19, 1928.
***Wilson A. Bentley, “Marvel of the snow gems,” Technical World Magazine, vol. 13 (1910).
****Wilson A. Bentley, “A sample from Bentley’s notebooks,” online source no longer available.
Air Conditioning Machines (Remote Control).—Fifty years before the invention of air conditioning, P.T. Barnum boasted of his museum lecture hall’s “great attention… to ventilation,” where “thirty thousand feet of fresh air per minute are forced by means of an immense steam fan, entering the lecture room through an innumerable number of holes, bored in every part of the floor, and under the seats… rendering it in summer the coolest, and most healthy and agreeable place of amusement in the city.”* In 1902 Willis Carrier went beyond simply blasting air: a machine that could manipulate temperature and humidity. While his invention was designed for lithographic printing, where temperature fluctuations changed paper’s size and botched multi-color prints, the technical production of micro-climate control soon spread to theaters and department stores. Small window units introduced in the ‘30s cooled the interior of private homes, while superior central A/C was unveiled in a model village in Austin, TX, in 1953 as a collaborative experiment between the University of Texas at Austin and the governmental agency The National Association of Home Builders. Central A/C allowed residential and commercial structures to become taller and deeper by better circulating fresh air at a comfortable temperature without reliance on climatic whims outside. “This involved the creation of a new kind of man and woman living in a comfortable indoor climate while still forming a traditional American post-war nuclear family.”** Suddenly Sunbelt cities like Phoenix could become inhabitable to middle class life forms that demanded sensations of coolness under the relentless sun. Ironically, A/C’s cooling of microclimates causes increased warming of earth’s atmosphere as the sky collects greenhouse gases produced by the electricity production that powers A/C units.
*P.T. Barnum, An Illustrated Catalogue and Guide Book to Barnum’s American Museum (New York: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck & Thomas, 1864), p.105.
** Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, “Better than Weather: The Austin Air-Conditioned Village,” Cabinet (Issue 3, 2001).
Chairman Mao’s Lapel Pins.—Mao treasured these two lapel pins commemorating China’s first nuclear bomb test in October 1964 at Lop Nur, a former salt lake in the northwest that dried up by the 1930s due to dams. Forty-four more bomb tests followed before China’s 1996 moratorium on atomic testing. The Lop Nur test site is now being developed as an attraction in China’s growing “Red Tourism,” an internal travel industry built of nostalgic and traumatic political times. Trinitite.—On July 16, 1945, the blast from the US test of the first atomic bomb burned a 1,000 foot glassine crater of fused silica into the desert plains. The greenish glass lining the crater was nicknamed trinitite in honor of the blast’s deployment at the Trinity test site outside Alamogordo, NM. On August 9, 1945, the US dropped the same type of bomb—plutonium—on Nagasaki, Japan, unleashing an apocalypse that suggests that the end of the world has happened many times over. Note: Your Curators tested the trinitite with a Geiger counter and found it emitted less radiation than common household items like the sensor element of smoke detectors.
The Snowglobe Collection.—Snowglobes draw your gaze past their physically impenetrable exterior shells into bitter-sweet atmospheres of nostalgia. Sacred in subject and hand-crafted of wood and paint, Russian icon eggs like that belonging to Grand Duchess Anastasia fell off their holy pedestals under industrialization to become millefiori glass paperweights one could only purchase in Murano, Italy, glass replicas of botanical forms by German artisans, or the cut glass of Bohemia. These beautiful spheres of color inaugurated a shift from sacred to secular egg-shaped dream-spheres that culminated in representational plastic snowglobes depicting iconic scenes. As generally secular tokens of touristic trips, souvenir snowglobes echo icon eggs’ procurement in pilgrimages to sacred sites. Among our collection at MNAE, Visitors can see casted resin snowglobes created by Your Curator Jen Webel that capture an oyster shell with a pearl, a vinyl rose with glue dewdrops, and an “Email Me” candy heart. A charming Roswell alien scene evokes a dream of strange visitations. Shrunken heads look back at you. A spelunker explores Carlsbad Caverns. Historical architectures are caught in permanent winter: the Alamo, the St. Louis Arch, the Twin Towers. A miniature zoo thrives under plastic and glass, including a buffalo and pink flamingoes in the snow. One never knows what wonders await in our ever-changing collection!