Friday, December 21, 2012

curioser and curioser

"By building curiosity cabinets, early modern elites made their mental lives manifest: the curiosity cabinet displayed its owner's interests, tastes, travels, and "wit," yet it was also an assemblage of found objects, and thus a display of the external world in all its infinite variety....

"In the realm of art (following a circuitous path that leads us through Joseph Cornell's enchanting boxes and Robert Rauschenberg's combines), the cluttered, fragmented, eclectic aesthetic of the curiosity cabinet carried into the twentieth century... 

"I began to notice Wunderkammer-like displays in contemporary web presentation. Perhaps the internet loves curiosity cabinets because it is, itself, a curiosity cabinet -- in a manner of speaking, of course.... 

"In the ecosystem of Pinterest we find the same organic arrangement of contrasting items, grouped poetically (rather than rationally) around a nebulous theme. The eclectic and exotic are prized; color and visual interest win the day. And the context for each item? Virtually nonexistant. The objects that made up a curiosity cabinet followed circuitous pathways...  in the course of which they lost their original contexts, names, meanings. Objects that had once embodied human culture, like sculptures and coins, became mere ephemerata."

from "Cabinets of Curiosity: the Web as Wunderkammer" by Benjamin Breen, at the Appendix, a "journal of narrative & experimental history"

Breen points to further reading on this subject:

the internet as wunderkammer paper by Jessica Ezell

as well as his own earlier essay on 17th Century cabinets of curiosity at the blog Res Obscura

see also the collation of responses to the piece that point to other pieces and further vidence


I argued a similar point -- collection as a decontext/recontext machine in the Toop  piece in the Wire earlier this year:

"What emerges as a subtext of Exotica is the idea of the collection--a public or private archive of recordings, texts, images—as a decontextualisation machine.   When a collection achieves a certain density and duration, the proximity of things of far-flung provenance allows for the remapping of cultural fields: strange connections cutting across time and space and genre become almost unavoidable. Ownership and location of cultural forms gets displaced from its proper setting. The Internet -- a vast collective collection, a non-space of absolute proximity between everything-- is just the nth-degree fruition of tendencies inherent to the archive."

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