Curio: Sites of Wonder adapts a traditional ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ display to accommodate an eclectic group of objects which all provoke a sense of wonder, interest, and oddity. Newly commissioned works sit alongside and in dialogue with Victorian taxidermy, etymological specimens, antiques and historical prints to complete our own unique take on a ‘cabinet of curiosity’, while also taking inspiration from historical examples like Canterbury Cathedral’s Bargrave collection.
Artists Paul Hazleton, Sarah Craske, Kirsten Baskett, and Tessa Farmer have all created artworks that initially appear strange and wondrous. But on second glance, the ‘strangeness’ of each object, is not all that connects the pieces. Themes such as biological science, time, decay, memory, and the fragility of material existence, are hinted in each of the works. Paul Hazleton’s illuminated cabinet displays intricate works exploring his own ‘overactive imagination’ using dust and other found objects to create small scenes of ephemera and mortality. Sarah Craske’s biological cabinet of dormant bacteria harvested from the pages of Ovid’s Metamorphoses investigates the living organisms that surround us, developing and growing unseen. Memory and preservation of physical existence is central to the three illuminated sculptures encased in resin by Kirsten Baskett in this exhibition. The final commissioned work by Tessa Farmer is an exquisitely complex depiction of a fantastical battle between insects and fairies constructed entirely from biological specimens. These shared themes also appear within Mair Hughes, Bridget Kennedy, and Polly Morgan’s works who choose to explore them in a striking and thought-provoking way.
Mair Hughes’ bold lens and landscape drawings with accompanying sculptures exist in an interesting dialogue, resulting in an interrogation of biological and physical science and the depicted object’s structural design. Bridget Kennedy’s sculpture investigates memory and the development and decay of the now-decommissioned Wylfa Nuclear Power Station in Anglesey, North Wales. The sculptures engineered by Polly Morgan feature taxidermy chicks in a precarious and hazardous scene. The fragility of physical life and the balance of existence is explored in Morgan’s visually shocking pieces.
Alongside these works, are non-art pieces borrowed from the Beany House of Art and Knowledge such as taxidermy figures of birds, a 1930s clock that no longer works, a selection of insect specimens, volcanic dust, and the frontispiece of Musei Wormiani Historia, a seventeenth century print of the cabinet belonging to Ole Worm, a Danish physician and antiquarian. The non-art works intermingle and exist amongst art objects creating an amalgamation of interesting and heterogeneous things, hopefully piquing the curiosity of all who visit.
This exhibition has been curated by graduating students from the Masters programme in Curating at the University of Kent.