Last week The Cabinet of Curiosities caravan pulled up outside University Campus Suffolk to coincide with an exhibition of the same project in UCS’s Waterfront Gallery.
This visit and exhibition is the culmination of a year long project by UCS Fine Art Senior Lecturer Jane Watt. Jane and her bright blue caravan have visited various locations, and in particular many around Cambridge throughout the Autumn of 2014, providing an opportunity for people to come and document curiosities via cyanotypes. “At each location my assistant Amy Sage and I went through the same ritual: paper ready, aprons on, lights on,” says Jane. “The blue door is opened, the sign put outside inviting people to ‘Bring in your curious object’. Each venue brought many new visitors with unexpected objects and related unique tales.”
Claire and I went to pay Jane a visit and take our curiosities. I took what I believe to be a one-off metal cycle handle-bar spirit level for measuring hill gradients, (I suspect it is from the 1950s and the like of which I haven’t seen anywhere else), and Claire took along a claw. Delicate objects were processed inside the caravan under a lamp on coated paper, (see above), while more robust objects were left in the sun before being fixed.
The caravan itself is a traveling exhibition as selected cyanotypes are hung up on clothes pegs or stored away in draws for visitors to inspect. Each print is numbered and all information recorded on a card in, obviously, blue ink.
I find this project fascinating for many reasons. What seem like randomly chosen objects to a casual observer at first glance reveal on reading the accompanying card that these items mean something to their owners. In some respects this aspect reminded me of the Museum of Water that I visited when it was at Somerset House last year—art that relies on audience participation and records an aspect of their lives will forever be intriguing to me. There is a democratisation at work here; but at the same time the hand of the artist controls the visual output ensuring a considered rather than chaotic display. The artist’s vision is supported by those that choose to take part and ‘buy into’ the concept, and sates in them a need to document what they feel is important in their lives. In a nutshell, projects such as Jane’s have a real sense of humanity at their core and art blurs into anthropology.
The exhibition in UCS is a mass of cyanotypes that Jane has recorded in the past year. Don’t expect to see the exhibition in 5 minutes, as a visit can drag you in to looking at all the objects recorded and trying to work out what many of them are, resulting in the need to read their accompanying cards. In many respects the cards are as fascinating as the objects.
From a design perspective what I also really like about The Cabinet of Curiosities is its overarching branding and the attention to detail that Jane and those that she has worked with have gone to. Badges, postcard packs, a hardback book and accompanying website have been thoroughly thought through by the design team she worked with: LMNOP.
Despite the caravan only being outside UCS for one day last Saturday, you can still see the results of much of Jane’s work as the exhibition continues in the UCS Waterfront Gallery, Ipswich, until 4 September. It is well worth a visit.