Call for papers

Curiosity 2.0: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Contemporary Art


16–17 January 2015, Castle Chapel, Royal Palace Dresden


 “No one wants to return to the deliberate chaos of the Kunstkammer as museums.”

Horst Bredekamp, The Lure of Antiquity, 1993

Since the 1990s there has been a more pronounced interest within contemporary art in exploring the Kunstkammer and the cabinet of curiosities as models; the lure of this theme continues unbroken among researchers, artists and curators. The interdisciplinary conference Curiosity 2.0 will seek an overview of current debates and of artistic and curatorial strategies. It is to be held in conjunction with the exhibition Mark Dion: The Academy of Things, which opens on 24 October 2014 and – marking the 250th anniversary of the Art Academy in Dresden – will stage the college’s collections as a contemporary cabinet of curiosities at the Octagon in the Lipsius Building. The show includes another two interventions: one in the permanent collection at the Albertinum and the other in the Green Vault, once the treasure chamber of the House of Wettin.

The term ‘cabinet of curiosities’ has become almost hackneyed in contemporary art criticism. This conference, therefore, will seek to delineate the concept more precisely and encourage some historical sensitivity. After all, not every idiosyncratic, chaotic or outlandish horde of objects is necessarily a cabinet of curiosities. But Curiosity 2.0 is not concerned with market-oriented self projections by the occasional contemporary collector hoping to acquire princely kudos with the aid of precious or obscene objects.

The aim, rather, is to explore links with things that accompany us in our everyday lives and to examine the interplay between our fascination with curiosities and the rise of the Internet. In this context, the Kunstkammer might be defined as a collective and deliberately amateur project, because in the digital era curiosity, inquiring minds and the thirst for knowledge cannot be tamed, amid the spawning of websites and the computerised collections of the cyberworld.

This contemporary version of the cabinet of curiosities is playful about things and the networks they form. It is a machine for alternative world views. A chamber of wonders allows us to put the primacy of rationality to one side and to focus on models of knowledge rooted in obsession or magic. Besides, the time has come for a critical examination of the Eurocentrism inherent in the field. What – in the light of postcolonial theories and a revision of the category ‘exotic’ – are the curiosities of the 21st century? Who are the freaks, what the monstrosities and where the mirabilia of the digital age? How do artists and curators attune historical vibrations to the present? How do things and materials relate to digital worlds? How does artistic research subvert the epistemologies of official order? What fuzzy fields emerge when these disciplines cross, and what are the politics, ideologies and dynamics of today’s Kunst- and Wunderkammer?

Presentations will be in German and English.

Please send a short abstract of about half a page to p.lange-berndt@ucl.ac.uk. Deadline is the 15 October 2014.

Concept of the exhibition and conference: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Rübel, Academy of the Arts, Dresden, Dr. Petra Lange-Berndt, Department of History of Art, University College London

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