I’ve been looking at wunderkammern – that is, cabinets of curiosities, literally ‘wonder-rooms’ – where collected objects are displayed. Often objects from nature – shells, say, or rock samples, skeletons, fossils, samples, but also mixed in with man-made objects from other cultures or times. They’re interesting in that the very act of placing something in a wunderkammer gives it a kind of quality and value; in the way they allow juxtaposition, the way in which things can be arranged in relation to one another and how that changes their meaning and message; and in their attitudes towards nature, curation, and the artistic eye.
The cabinets themselves are interesting for the way they allow the display to function. There are usually a number of separate compartments which provide a frame and a background to the objects, and control the light around them. Often not all the objects are on obvious display – they’re behind doors, or screens, or in drawers. I’m interested in the way the screens work, particularly – in how the experience is related to the way the view into the cabinet changes as the visitor moves and looks around it, and the object-composition changes too. The revelation-exploration. It’s partly because of the link back to nature, where there are very few planar experiences; think of layers of foliage. I was reading a research paper which described that the creatures in a zoo exhibit (gorillas, in this case) were more relaxed and happier when a camouflage screen was hung between them and the visitors, and also that the visitors reported enjoying their experience more. The presence of something through and around which to look, which added another layer to the visual display, was experientially valuable.