Cabinets of curiosity, memento mori, still-life and trompe l'oeil......
Chamber of art and curiosities 1636
Kunsthistorisches Museum. Vienna.
I continue to find the 'language of things' a compelling culturally specific and universal form of communication. Objects that are singled out for special display or consideration are seen and 'signify' both individually and in relation to each other and the spaces they occupy. Most people collect or accumulate objects that tell personal stories or wider histories or are catalysts for memory or imagination. Natural objects or cultural artefacts, precious or otherwise, articulate a complex relation to the world of material forms and to our sense 'value' and 'values' in a personal exploration of interior and exterior worlds and meanings - they outlive us and connect across the boundaries of time and space and so function as memento mori - reminders of our own mortality, the brevity of life and ironically the vanity and folly of too strongly attaching to material things or being enthralled with impermanent states.
The painting by Frans Francken is typical of the genre with its self-aware, self referential representation in trompe l' oeil of small prints and paintings along with the cluttered collection shells and other curious objects of natural history and antiquities you might expect in 17th cen. humanist's cabinet. The painting is a representation of representation itself, framing frames of reference, both literally and metaphorically and setting up a critical dialogue with itself about nature, art and the individual artist and collector in a world of material and philosophical 'goods'.
My own impulse to collect objects that sometimes find their way into my work is also strong. Here are a few photos of my own current 'cabinet of curiosities' which includes the oil painting I am currently working on in in the floor space.
Perhaps the computer itself is the current version of the 'cabinet of curiosities', the laptop, the internet and all the new forms of digital communication are the virtual but sadly non spatial, non tactile, non material 'wunderkammer' of the 21st century.
I discovered this site below which seems to be exploring similar ideas.