Featuring: Elltiott Arkin, Peter Blake, Christine Marie Davis, Charles Hovland, Holly Laws, Paul Etienne Lincoln, Wolfgang Stiller and Martin Wilner
At the end of the 17th century a physician and theoretician, Johann Daniel Major, described Wunderkammer as “scattered/deliberate disorder.” In as much as this description is paradoxical, it, in essence, captures what Wunderkammer was: a venue for collecting and organizing objects, whether they be organic or man-made, in order to facilitate the understanding of these objects in relation to each other and in and of themselves. Major’s description is no less fitting when attributed to the contemporary experiments with the `cabinets of curiosities,’ examples of which are present here.
The artists featured in The Children of the Cabinet have explored the form and ideology of the Wunderkammer through various means and mediums. Works by such artists as Wolfgang Stiller, Paul Etienne Lincoln or Holly Laws hold most true to the formal element of the Wunderkammer. Their work begins with a skeleton that is a cabinet, box or vitrine that they then proceed to fill with `marvels’ and `curiosities.’
Wolfgang Stiller fills his cabinet with organic forms such as amphibian skeletons and organs. In a sense, his works are what a 17th century natural sciences historian, Robert Hook, called “monuments of nature.” Paul Etienne Lincoln’s `boxes,’ on the other hand, contain man-made marvels. In his Passage to Purification, he fills a cloth covered box with 24 silver prints that illustrate a performance with a curious looking machine and laboratory equipment. Then there are Holly Laws’ vitrines which she fills with sculptures of human limbs and other body parts.
Some of the other artists featured here think, so to speak, outside of the box. Christine Marie Davis’ work, although no longer confined to the walls of a box or vitrine, maintains the collection/assemblage aspect of the Wunderkammer. Her sculptures are assemblages of both organic materials such as “hair, fur, leather,” and man-made materials such as, “ceramic, glass and metal.”
Works by Peter Blake and Martin Wilner seem most removed from the formal aspect of the Wunderkammer, in the sense that their work is two dimensional. However, their work maintains the ideology of the Wunderkammer as a calculated collection of disparate objects.
Peter Blake makes collages of popular culture images such as postcards, stamps, clippings from magazines and ticket stubs. As such he creates collections of the detritus of pop culture. Martin Wilner’s works, although at first glance appear to be collages, are ink on paper drawings. Yet, these drawings, in a sense, render a collage of different images that are collected and organized in the artist’s mind as memories. These disparate images, when juxtaposed, create a coherent narrative of events, places and faces that made history.
Elliott Arkin works with an entirely different element of the Wunderkammer, namely the 17th century experiment called automata. Many of the 17th century artists were intrigued by science of motion and strove to give their sculptures lifelike abilities such as movement. Elliott Arkin’s sculptures are a contemporary twist on such mechanized sculptures.
In essence, this show explores the role of the artist as collector: an individual, who removes objects from their original or natural context, organizes them such that they can be understood in and of themselves, and in some cases animates them.