Since each of us was several, there was quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as fartherest away. (Deleuze & Guattari, in the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, 3)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Wunderkammer & The Lost Birds Series

The history of the sheer magical existence of the previously unimagined and the evolution of curiosity into a quest for understanding are in part the history of our material culture. (Helmut Lueckenhausen, p30)
Writing in the week-end edition of The Sydney Morning Herald ( August 7-8, 2010), John McDonald describes The Newcastle Chest which was commissioned for an exhibition at the Newcastle Regional Gallery's exhibition, Curious Colony: A 21st Century Wunderkammer.
The Newcastle Chest sits at the centre of this exhibition which  mixes the work of the early colonial artists with the contemporary. The Chest itself refers to an earlier one--Governor Macquarie's Collectors' Chest , now held in the Sate Library of NSW but considered too fragile to travel to Newcastle for their exhibition.
Popular around the 16th and 17th centuries, the 'Cabinet of Curiosity' (Wunderkammer) was often made for a number of reasons--naturalia (to contain specimens of rare plants),  exotica (possession of  other cultures), or artefacta (to contain art works).
Helmut Lueckenhausen goes on to explain:
The Wunderkammer systematised its contents by the very fact of its existence. No matter how diverse or seemingly unrelated the parts, the physical fact of their being brought together turned the furniture [ie the cabinet] into a rationalising and probably even unifying structure. (p36)

The Lost birds #1
(scanned image)
In size (approx. 20 x20 cm), the eight panels of  the  Lost birds series (2006/7) by Pamela Fitzsimons. would fit into such a Cabinet of Curiosity. And as such, they fulfill each of  Lueckenhausen's categories:

  • Naturalia: depicting the Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynhus lathami) would have been seen regularly by the early colonialists but are now uncommon due to the clearing of woodland and particularly of the casuarinas, which form this cockatoo's source of food . Pamela is both artist and environmentalist; her work is informed by her love for the land, and: "...patterns, colours, textures, changing shapes, and nature's cycles are recurring themes".
  • Exotica: this cockatoo would have appeared strange and exotic to the first settlers, its 'massive bulbous bill' and strange whining call would have made it a subject of curiosity. Unfortunately its now 'uncommon' status means it is become increasingly 'exotic' and potentially endangered.
  • Artefacta: Pamela's work is informed by the landscape in which she lives--she explains: "Walking through the landscape, observing birds and animals, listening, thinking and meditating in the bush all provide inspiration". The colours of the plant-dyed and coloured silks and the intensity of the hand stitching  make her works objects of wonder.   

 Helmut Lueckenhausen, 'Wonder and despite: craft and design in museum history' in, 'Craft and Contemporary Theory' Sue Rowley (ed)
Pamela Fitzsimons, artist's statement from the catalog to the exhibition, Changing Places Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery (2007)

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