Sunday 25 January 2015

Dresden Conference: The one with Horse Blood and the Hunt

Can't resist this mirror
So this is it. The concluding session of the Dresden Conference on Cabinets of Curiosity. That two day event has provided a wealth of material, as well as making me think about the most extraordinary things. On reflection, the last three sessions were far more controversial than I originally thought; death and colonialism; classifying the unclassifiable; and this final session, which amongst other issues, discussed the blurring of boundaries regarding human and animals. I've combined Marion Endt-Jones and Sarah Wade's talks because they are relevant for my work, and they both used the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature as a case study.

As Donna Roberts had already noted, 'cabinets of curiosity' have been the topic of many shows to greater and lesser critical success. Marion Endt-Jones suggested we were in a new age of curiosity, citing a raft of shows, from the Manchester coral show, various European exhibitions and the growth in alternative wunder- museums. She suggests that this revival is not just inspired by surreal art but a wholesale 'questioning of institutions'. It is also a reaction to the corporate nature of the white cube, an inevitable and long overdue rethink of ubiquitous bland, open, unnatural, cold galleries.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Dresden Conference: Chimeric Blobs, biological art, or where I go off script

The penultimate talk which I want to cover here marks the descent into something much darker than death and memory; the creation of life. Paradoxically, what should be the most joyous occasion is in an artistic/scientific context, the most troublesome. I can understand that the 16th century natural philosophers attempted to recreate the natural spark of life, and much has been said about this. With ingredients ranging from blood, semen and horse manure, I wasn't sure that the creation and display of modern artificial life would be as distasteful as some of the early modern alchemical recipes.

Helen Gregory's 'Curious instances and chimeric blobs: Disrupting definitions of natural history specimens through contemporary art practice' opened with a discussion about what constitutes a natural history specimen. From the historical wet and dry specimens, which served their purpose adequately, to new technology meaning that objects can be cryogenically frozen. Scientific and laboratory collections have inevitably moved away from their 19th century ancestors and, like some of the samples, evolved beyond all recognition.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Dresden Conference: Wildgoose Memorial Library

From theoretical surrealist curiosity to artistic rational enquiry, Jane Wildgoose's presentation on the work which has arisen from her 'Memorial Library' was rather interesting. I must confess to being rather sceptical at first because I wasn't sure where she was going, but in the end, the light she shed on national museums' archives was both shocking and influential on her work. I don't want to dwell too much on her own collection because, for me personally, this is the part about which I feel most ambivalent. I appreciate that her library of objects is meaningfully and obsessively collected, as well as being catalyst for her research, but I feel unhappy critically examining her collection here. I merely salute her, and suggest you look at her website.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Data Protection and Access to Information: An IALS Lecture

I attended the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies 'Data Protection Act 1984, Freedom of Information Act 2000: thirty and fifteen years on – perspectives on the past and prospects for the future' yesterday evening. The talk, as you'd expect from a university event, was quite academic. I'm used to library/legal events where lawyers/PSLs offer practical solutions to difficult legislation, but it was interesting to hear a different take.

This lecture acknowledged the awkwardness of the various conventions, directives, acts etc., which go to make up the legislative framework of data protection/access to information. There were some interesting insights simply because (shock horror) I'm not aware of the history of data protection, and I had never thought about why 'freedom of information' was actually a complete misnomer. It should be 'a right to access administrative documents' legislation. 

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Dresden Conference: Thinking Critically about Curiosity

Donna Roberts's paper set out to encourage us to think critically about curiosity. The world appears to have rediscovered 'cabinets of curiosity' in a big way over the past few years, turning it into the hackneyed phrase that we'd already noted. Although broadly speaking, the modern love of curiosity and rediscovering the love of 'odd collections' is a good thing, the problem with such popularity is the blurring of terminology and lack of critical thinking. To illustrate this point, the article, Museum of Curiosity set to ignite wonder with collection of 'weird' objects, stated that 'un-poetically branding his catalogue of curiosities as “weird shit”, Snelle is purveying objects all sorts of objects from the natural and man-made world'.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Dresden Conference: 'I was looking for bog people in Copenhagen' - the work of Rosamond Purcell

All Things Strange And Beautiful
I must confess to bunking off Robert Felfe's probably excellent second session presentation on 'ordnungsraum and labyrinth' because it was in German, and I'm not sure if I even understood the English abstract. My fault, not his. So I went off with a Hochschule student to see her term's work on smoke. It was interesting, and the photos of asphalt stuck on to the bumpy wall was rather effective. Reminded me of ash...
Once I'd rejoined the group after refreshments, we entered into the artistic and poetic realm of Rosamond Purcell and the shadow of things. As we saw from the first panel discussion, the conference organisers were keen to ask contemporary artists to speak about their art, not just art historical scholars.

Dresden Conference: Part One Cabinets of Curiosities / Wunderkammern / Kunstkammern

View from the theatre
These are the first set of many notes taken at the Dresden Conference on the Cabinet of Curiosities in Contemporary Art (16-17 Jan 2015). As background, the programme states that 'we seek an overview of current debate, artistic, and curatorial strategies. The contemporary version of the cabinet of curiosities is a machine for alternative world views, because inquiring minds and the thirst for knowledge cannot be tamed. What are the curiosities of the 21st century? The mirabilia of the digital age? What are the politics, ideologies and dynamics of today's Kunst- Wunderkammer?'
So why here and now? In 2014 the Academy of Fine Arts celebrated its 250th anniversary of its foundation. This conference came about as part of the celebratory events. It accompanies Mark Dion's 'Academy of Things' which is currently on show at the Hochschule. I will come to that separately. Dresden is uniquely placed to host this sort of event because of its own Kunstkammer pedigree, but also its proximity to the Hapsburg collections and the House of Wettin with its pan European connections. Not to mention the desire to cut into contemporary art debate.

Friday 16 January 2015

Logical Rain: or, the rain in Japan falls...

Sometimes the unintended visits to a place turn out to be the highlights. Although I am here in Dresden on another mission entirely, there is inevitable free time. So having never been to the Japanese Palace on the other side of the Elbe, it was pleasant to while away an hour in the rain.

Yes in the rain. It started with a video  of the Japanese monsoon; lingering shots on industrial landscapes, cityscapes, suburbia, all silent except for the rain. Remembering Whitacre's Cloudburst made me think of rain's musicality. The bursts of forte staccato on a tin roof, the murmuring pianissimo on leaves; an entire orchestra of musical possibility.

Friday 9 January 2015

Lecture: Exotic birds and animals in the 18th Century garden

Buy a fine singing
bird (1688)
If you're an exotic creature, there's no trusting anything outside in January. From tiny tapirs, tottering giraffes to koalas in mittens our zoological world can be both a lifeline and an unnatural world for the creatures within. I'm clearly no expert on animals, the 18th century, or even the Georgian menageries of old London town, however, yesterday's lecture on exotic birds and animals in the 18th century garden still links to many areas in which I'm interested.

As it is the first in the History of Gardens and Landscapes lectures this term, David Marsh explained that exotica was the theme of  the series; exotica seems to dart about, like a lost traveller, zigzagging through the 18th century. He introduced Dr Christopher Plumb of University of Manchester who is currently writing a book on animals and birds of this period. As a great fan of Timothy tortoise, Christopher's interest in natural history was assured at an early age and he was happy to share some of the colourful stories - both tragic and comic - of England's earliest exotic imports.

On Burrell at Bonhams

Thoughts tumbling, confused memories
When connected curiosities crisscross
Like curlicued brambles which
Frolic over a falconer's purse

To breathlessly chase appropriate words
Like the tiny embroidered dog
Perpetually swimming after but
Never grasping the knowing duck

Stringing ideas like pearls
On Salome's neck, real, lustrous, pure
Incongruous they sit, her infamous deed
Leaving screaming St John with no head.

Concentrating on making mental echoes
Patterns in the dappled green oil reflecting
The Proven├žale light; golden, warmly
Remembered, longed for sun

Standing considering the diminutive Emperor
His empty visor unsees the crowd
Shiny still, yet battlefield battered
His corrugated strength lives on, upright.

Taken as a whole, this precious
Time capsule collects and connects;
Full of threads to knit, and wire to link
Living cabinets with those now lost.

In appreciation of the Cabinet of Curiosity which is the Burrell Collection.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Reverberations: #SocialMedia, Impact and #Altmetrics within Libraries and Research

I changed my CILIP Special Interest Group membership recently and, although it is too early in the year to tell, it’s possibly cemented the new direction in my continuing professional development. I’ve previously been nervous of the Multimedia and Information Technology Group (MmIT) because I am not a technical whizz and merely an enthusiastic end user of other people’s inventions; I constantly salute the brains behind Blogger, MiCoach and Evernote. However preconceptions are there to be unconcepted and at their AGM yesterday I was astonished at the group’s breadth, scope, and imagination.

During the introduction to the afternoon, chair, Leo Appleton said that the AGM usually set the theme for the year, providing a springboard into the annual conference. After the success of last year’s conference on ‘Sound and Vision in Librarianship: Going Beyond Words and Pictures’, which I’m sad to have missed, they are thinking about revisiting social media and how it's developed. Given that library and information services are using social media in increasingly inventive ways, it would be interesting to reflect on these changes and talk about where it is all going.