Something that’s really resonated with me lately, especially after the reveal of the 2016 Adelaide Biennial, is the idea of the “Wunderkammer” or Cabinet of Curiosity. In ye olde times (well, not that long ago really), well-to-do types would collect, arrange and present the most amazing items they could find (and buy).
While this was obviously often a rich-man’s sport and one of the arenas in which Eurocentricism and privilege reigned supreme, the art of collecting and arranging incredible, magical artifacts does not necessarily have to be one that is tainted with the sins of the past. In fact, the modern art of Wunderkammer-ing is one that can be incredibly rewarding.
I’m a bit of a collector myself and so, over my years, I’ve come to realise that even inanimate objects have an energy and power behind them. Think about how you can get weird vibes after walking into an antique store, or how second hand books feel different to brand new ones. Objects store some sort of energy and hold memories and then, over time and if they’re particularly loved, come to take on a certain kind of life of their own.
As I’ve been spending more time than ever at my home-office desk (what with writing and preparing job applications), I’ve had time to sit back and reflect on what the objects around me mean. Even small pieces of paper or cardboard can come to represent fantastical moments, with their presence able to take us back to another time; to transport us into a completely different part of the world.
And so, I present to you my office-space Wunderkammer and the hopefully interesting stories that accompany the exhibits.
The Map: A gift from my British cousins, this little, mass-produced map is now printed with the trail of my travels. Colouring in the small patches of Earth I’ve covered really puts the size of the whole thing in perspective… There’s still a whole lot more to explore.
The Pins: In every major city, village or town I visited during my Europe trip I tried to pick up a small pin to mark the occasion. There’s some really beautiful jewels here, things that, even though their probably produced for a dime-a-dozen in some far-away factory, become rare treasures. Represented here, from left to right, are Latvia, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Edinburgh, Yorkshire, London, Murcia, Murcia again, Granada, Sevilla, Barcelona, Madrid, Mannheim, Burg Hohenzollern, Munich, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Königssee, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Kutna Hora, Paris, Milan and Warhammer World! There are amazing stories behind every one of them… all of which have been published in this very blog at some time or another! There ya go, that’s some incentive to go reading!
The Warhammer World Ticket: Somehow, this object is the culmination of years of hard work, time and money spent on my miniature hobby. To take the holy, nerdy pilgrimage to Nottingham and see the source of one of my favourite fantasy universes… well, that’s something more special than it probably should be!
Maxim’s card: In the small student village I lived in, just outside of Mannheim, there was a really over-priced but fairly nice little restaurant that seemed to be the toast of the town. There I had a couple of dates with a lovely American gal and even drank my first beer in Germany. Maxim’s came to be a hugely important place to me, and will remain a nostalgic, wood-paneled hang-out spot in which many deep conversations and meetings took place.
The Notes: A Czech 100 Koruna note and a Scottish 5 pounder. Reminders that money is just arbitrarily valued pieces of paper with some nice things drawn on it (100 Koruna is about 5 Aussie bucks, while 5 pounds is almost double that in Aus), but also a reminder of all the unique styles that appear throughout the world’s cultures.
The KGB letter: Given to visitors to Riga’s KGB Corner House as an interesting, historic souvenir, this sort of paper would have been a horrifying, near death sentence for those under Soviet rule all those years ago. It makes me feel cold, remembering the snow that I experienced so vividly and violently in Latvia. Hell of a first time.
Ticket to Museo Del Prado: Featuring one of Goya’s most important paintings, this ticket is probably one of the most valuable pieces of paper I own. It may seem silly to hang onto things like this, but this ticket proves that I have seen, in the flesh, some of my favourite paintings of all time. It’s also a souvenir from my last day in Spain with one of the most precious human beings. This ticket proves that I travelled the length and breadth of an incredible country with an incredible person by my side. There’s nothing more special than the time we have with loved ones, not the greatest artworks in the world, not the treasures we own. This little ticket is just one of many physical reminders that I can hold onto, knowing that part of my heart is still in Spain. Fair trade. Similarly, the two Spanish Postcards, one purchased in Barcelona and one sent from Murcia, are reminders of a potent Spanish love. They’re beautiful little pieces of a beautiful country.