Like the vast majority of humanity, I’m a sucker for science museums. You want me to touch everything? And learn about magnets? And eat spaceman ice cream? Sleek caverns of blinking fluorescence, the science museum fulfills our fantasies about modernity, aestheticizing decades-old geological discoveries as galactic wonders of tomorrow.
Thus my intrigue when I discovered one of the oldest science museums in the world thanks to Brooklyn-based photographer Mae Ryan. The Moscow Polytechnical Museum tells a story of progress, but one far more rooted in history. Mae’s photographs from the museum show not the sparking, glow-in-the-dark displays I would’ve expected, but instead quiet rooms of mining and metallurgy advancements, and the quiet, older women who watch over them. Amidst space suits and 1/64 scale models of Siberian encampments, Mae became entranced by these guardwomen, capturing their solitude and ennui.
We find ourselves in a global culture of rapid change, as toddlers swipe fingers across iPhone screens and tweens build websites. At the planetarium, I watch the manic children tear through black-lit exhibits gleefully, knowing that at the end of the day, they couldn’t care less about the knobs and gears of previous generations. Mae’s ghost-town photographs of the Moscow Polytechnical Museum force me to question, are the flashy science museums of my culture actually purporting a lie? Is there a societal truth in the dusty Soviet robots that reveals more about progress than any 3D IMAX reverie could illuminate?
Michelle Traub is an editor for Etsy.