I LOVE COLLECTING!
Ever since I was a child, I collected things. Things from my backyard, things from the woods, things from abandoned houses, wire, glass, shells, old wood, cattle bones, rodent skulls, unidentifiable objects, the list can go on. I guess I was one of those kids that was fascinated by the objects that make up our world and collecting was a way for me to fantasize and learn about the stories, histories, or secrets these things possessed. Now, later in life, I have come to understand how my childhood hobbies have influenced my career since I have become an artist and teacher who is interested in exploring our complex world through the discovering of things. In other words, I want to not only find ways to integrate science into the arts classroom, but ways to critically examine visual culture and use things as inspiration in the art making process. With this in mind, the intriguing history and use of the Wonder Cabinets, or Cabinet of Curiosities, in contemporary art came to mind.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WONDER CABINET
“Musei Wormiani Historia,” Ole Worm 1665
Cabinet of Curiosities are exactly what the term entails: a cabinet, or some sort of furniture, that houses a collection of strange, interesting, mysterious, wierd marvels of nature and human cultural productions. Now, I imagine these type of cabinets to have started over hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago, since I view collection to be an ancient act or practice our ancestors most likely engaged in for whatever reason. Us humans are inclined to be curious and are designed to investigate the things that make up our worlds. Besides this, the first Cabinet of Curiosity was often associated with a Dutch man named Ole Worm. He is known for his research in embryology, but become more popular for being an avid collector of things. During the Renaissance, Ole Worm, along with Athanasius Kircher, were the two most well known people to have a Cabinet of Curiosity. During this time, these collections became the craze and were often something the wealthy could show off to their friends during gatherings. Yet, these cabinets were not only for the aristocrats and famous, but also was a part of the merchant class and practioneer homes. Collecting and displaying mysterious,objects was for everyone and is acknowledged as the precursors of our modern day museum collections.
The objects that could be found in the old versions of Cabinet of curiosities were endless and usually involved things that were not yet categorized or labeled by western science. The collections often were objects we now associate with anthropology, archaeology, botany, ethnography, natural history, geology, and relics of religion and ancient civilizations, much of what you find in contemporary museums of art, history and science. What is interesting is how these early cabinets are also known to for creating many fictitious ideas about various items, cultures, and origins of things, giving birth to many myths and legends we all find fascinating and sometimes degrading. With this in mind, the Wonder Cabinet can be a great avenue to start critically investigating with students cultural production, history, science, and art all in one.
WONDER CABINETS, VISUAL CULTURE, and ART EDUCATION
What I find most interesting about these wonder cabinets is the potential it has for helping us decipher and understand visual culture of contemporary society. More and more, visual culture is a critical and dominant theme in art education, emphasizing the importance of youth having access to learning experiences that incorporates what they see and use everyday. I cannot help but connect this current trend in art education to the amazing potential of using the idea of collecting, categorizing, and analyzing objects in the art classroom.
Kevin Rej, 418 pieces of pop-culture
WHO’S WHO IN COLLECTING?
All this talk about Wonder Cabinets has me thinking about the artists that are continuing this old tradition in contemporary art, but in a very post-post modern way. One artist that comes to mind in Mark Dion. His installations emphasize an interdisciplinary or integration-like approach to art making. By using familiar forms of display and scientific-like work processes in unconventional contexts, his collections brings into question the traditional, or dominant voices in western science, knowledge, and inquiry. Moreover, Dion’s work invites us to question how dominant forms of thinking influence history and how we understand the world. His work is very interesting, and I encourage you to explore him more. Below I have posted some images of his work.
Providence Cabinet, 2001
Hand-built cabinets with mahogany finish, filled with finds from the Providence Dig, 100 x 74 x 19 inches.
New England Digs, 2002
Scala Naturae, 1994,
Courtesy of Tanaya Bonakdar Gallery, NY
Mark Dion – Aviary (Library for the Birds of Massachusetts), 2005
WONDER CABINETS AND THE FUTURE
Wonder Cabinets are not just for science, installation, or sculpture anymore. In the age of 21st century digital technology, wonder cabinets have found their way onto the internet in the form of blogs, such as Wunderkammer, Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities , and Bioephemera to only name a few. Blogs are becoming sites where people house their collections, finds, or discoveries that resemble much of the old tradition of the Wonder Cabinets. Many of these blogs are even called “Wunderkammerns”, the dutch word for Wonder Cabinets. As for art education, the blog can become another avenue to document and give space to the wonderful creations and forms of cultural production our students will be creating, collecting, investigating, manipulating, critiquing, …..I think you get the point.
Some Elements of Sculptural Crochet, (creator unknown)