|Bureau of Bureaucracy (1993-99)|
various wood veneers & hardwoods, mother of pearl,
gold leaf & brass
I saw this cabinet of curiosities ('...of Bureaucracy') in the Renwick Gallery Washington DC when I visited in 2007.
Made by Kim Schmahmann, the workmanship is exquisite, personal yet universal--the lower drawers contain Schmahmann's birth certificate, marriage certificate and death certificate (not yet filled out).
The more I think about it, the more connections I can find between such cabinets, the blog and the quilts. And returning to the Macquarie Chest, these become quite specific:
- Lost birds: the bird depicted (or 'noticeably' absent) from this series of small quilts is the Glossy Black Cockatoo. These are becoming increasing uncommon due to the felling of their food source, the casuarina (she-oak, or Botany Bay wood) tree. Identified by the early colonists as being particularly good for making furniture, it was used to make a number of the early cabinets used to store scientific collections. The Macquarie Chest, however, is made from Australian Red Cedar and Australian Rosewood (rose mahogany) both found in the Lower Hunter district (of NSW) but now quite uncommon due to their early popularity. The Red Cedar and Turpentine trees on the property where Pamela now lives was felled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The logs were brought out along snig tracks that form the basis of many of the walkways today.
- It was the convicts, transported from England, who worked the lumber yards in the early days of the colony, among these were cabinet-makers who also took on private commissions such as the Macquarie Chest. (A connection to the 'Big House' series).
- The Callan Park estate was first settled by John Ryan Brenan who arrived in Sydney in 1834, only thirteen years after Macquarie's time as Governor of NSW ended.
- It is their 'secret' histories that make these objects so intriguing--the personal details of the collector's life, the reasons behind the selections that make up the collection and, what has happened to the object in the years since. Each of these quilts bring to light histories of various kinds--of a particular site (the Gorge, Callan Park), of the 'others' in society (the mentally ill, those who have broken the law) and even the quilt itself, too often overlooked as a medium of personal expression and work of art.
As I write this and search for even more connections (feeling certain there are some). I realise the obvious-- it is not the works themselves which are making the connections but my own mind. Just I choose the individual pieces of cloth to make a quilt, I am making connections and putting together stories that link the three quilts which make up this project. Thus a 'cabinet of curiosities' can be a metaphor for the mind, and this blog becomes a reflection of the way mine works...a performance of 'smooth thinking' (see my Post, 'Smooth Thought' dated January 19 this year).
When I looked around Kim Schmahmann's website, I noticed the following statement and perhaps I shall use it as an epigraph to this project:
"We have become a planet filled with lines, lines that have become essential to our existence. We are so dependent on these lines we cannot imagine a world without them. We use lines to create countries, towns, time zones, production lines and deadlines. We live and die by these lines, and yet none of these lines exist except in our imaginations and through our actions. That is the power of lines.
As we continue to use lines to divide ourselves into parts, we lose a sense of the whole. We tend to forget that even as lines divide, they also connect. While we so readily express our differences, let us also acknowledge our common humanity." (source)Notes:
Elizabeth Ellis, 'Rare & Curious'--for details of the Macquarie Chest