02 January, 2006

Da Vinci's Machines

Yesterday Rochelle and Jon and I spent the day at the Auckland Museum viewing the Da Vinci exhibition.

It was a spur of the moment thing, an outing to clear the cobwebs after a very late night (or early morning) due to celebrating the New Year. A good time was had by all who came to our little party, and the screening of the new The Christmas Invasion episode of Doctor Who on our projector screen went down a treat. But I digress...

The exhibition was exclusively focused on Da Vinci's machines, so there were no pictures of disiciples at dinner, or that woman with no eyebrows, in sight. Da Vinci's sketches and plans for various inventions were displayed alongside fairly accurate scale models made of traditional materials including wood, metal and cloth. So we saw his flying machines, lifting devices and gear assemblies amongst others. Some of these were interactive exhibits so much fun was had turning levers and lifting weights, and wondering if some of these were in fact intended for entirely different purposes.

One of the items on display particularly caught my attention - a bicycle made mostly of wood. This looked so much like a modern bicycle that it at first appeared rather incongruous in amongst the fanciful and - let's face it - somewhat impractical flying machines. It looked to me like what you might get if someone from the 20th century had journeyed back 500 years and tried to reproduce a bicycle using available materials and a memory of what they looked like. In other words, Da Vinci's bicycle was closer in appearance to a modern version than it was in function.

Struck by this thought, I looked around the exhibition with fresh eyes and some of the other inventions on display started to take on a similar feel. Quite uncanny! Maybe I've just been watching too much science fiction.

Something else that struck me about the exhibit was that Da Vinci was apparently fervently opposed to warfare and yet invented tanks, catapults, siege machines and devices to sink boats from below. This inconsistency seems to have been due to the fact that he was being paid to come up with these designs. So just as many of us may be required to compromise our own values to some extent each day in our workplace, so it was for this great man.

None of us had been to the Auckland Museum for some time so after having our fill of Da Vinci's wonderful gadgets we took in some of the other exhibits including the very sobering and heart-breaking displays of the wars in which New Zealand has taken part, and then to cheer ourselves up again an exhibit about childhood - which included toys and games through the generations with a display of typical a childs' bedroom. Nestled in amongst the Star Wars figures, Smurfs, comics, games and other kids culture items, was a copy of a Doctor Who Target novelisation. Okay, so it was Mawdryn Undead and the reprint edition at that - and therefore not a particularly iconic example of the series, but just to see Doctor Who represented in the museum was simply delightful.


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