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.