Ah the Wunderkammer. Even as an inert historic artefact it’s a tantalizing idea.
Wunderkammer is the German word; in English we also say Cabinet of Curiosities. It was a teeming, exotic Renaissance collection site. It was a place to amass rare and strange objects – natural, scientific and artistic. It was a chamber of curiosity. The Wunderkammer embodied wonder. The objects collected were embodiments, cabinetted. The Wunderkammer was a body of curiosity. In this wonder-room of curiosities, the wealthy powerbroker could also display a mastery of art and nature. When the collection was shared or displayed, some of this wonder reflected onto the collector. The Wunderkammer was then also an embodiment of mastery. The room embodied a master’s control of objects.
In the work presented here by the 2015 graduates of the Craft and Design programme at Sheridan College, individual mastery is balanced and gathered into just such a site, embodying the wonder of challenging work. What these makers have spent three years discovering, however, is that working like this can also embody something wonderful within itself.
In the Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities, two superb words elide: wonder and curiosity. In the collected idea, these two words mean elation in the inexplicable, pleasure of marvelling. But the two words are not at all synonymous; they run off in different directions.
Wonder appears in different parts of speech (noun, adjective, verb) around the same idea – astonishment, marvelousness, bewilderment – even to the point of having to attribute the wonderful thing to supernatural forces.
Curiosity is a slightly slipperier word. Yes it involves novelty and the strange and the interesting and rare (that’s why it attracts wonder.) And of course it means something of investigation and the proverbial cat. But curiosity also has an old meaning that is now mostly forgotten, but that lives on somewhere in the DNA of the word and, more tangibly, in the skin and bone-structure of Wunderkammer as it manifests in this catalogue. Curiosity can also mean something of attention to detail, proficiency obtained by careful application of skills, ingenuity. Until the late 17th century, the word curiosity meant perfection and accuracy of construction.
And that’s what these graduates have discovered. Through careful construction and ingenious skill and love of detail and material, curiosity and wonder can be returned to objects, rediscovered in a bureaucratic culture in which collecting turned into consuming. When these makers create an object well, it bears their silent slogan ‘I Believe in the Wonderful.’
By discovering the embodiment of wonder, these Sheridan craftspeople have managed to slip the adjectival into a verb. No more passive objects waiting to be collected; these are active objects, wonderfully uncabinetted. These graduates have made objects that are remarkable, marvellous, unique and rare through their creativity and intellect, their curious wonder. Congratulations, class of 2015: your mastery of yourself and your skills makes a verb of wonder.
The Renaissance Wunderkammer was an embodiment, full of objects that projected curiosity and wonderment. What has been discovered in these three years at Sheridan is that there, in the inert material, curiosity collects and the wonder of the maker can be embodied too. It is an honour to celebrate this with this graduating class.
And remember, your object has a maker and it might in time have an owner, but it has no master. Never completely finished, curiosity keeps it active, engaged – a site of amassed, active wonder.