Museum opens its Cabinet of Curiosities

Curious artefacts have inspired an exhibition by a group of Warrington students. Warrington Museum and Art Gallery opened its Cabinet of Curiosities to Fine Art students from Priestley College and asked them to create their own pieces. Now the guest curators have put together an exhibition that will run for the next year alongside many of the unusual items in the collection. “One of our aims at Culture Warrington is to support and nurture new and developing artistic talent in the region,” said Exhibitions and Services Manager Derek Dick.
“Working with the students has given them the opportunity to create new work inspired by some of the artefacts and also given us a real insight into how artists and young people view our collections. It has been a true partnership in all senses of the word.” Students were allowed to let their imaginations run wild and use the materials of their choice. The results were suitably varied and include pieces made from glass, wood as well as digital art and even metal coins. Among the young curators is Megan Bryce who took her inspiration from a travel writing kit. The former Byrchall High School pupil said it made her wonder about the part it had played in history thanks to the notes, letters, poems or stories that might have been written with it. She then thought of the letters her great grandparents, Walter and Olive Bryce, had written to one another during the First World War and was inspired to create a memory box. “Some of the letters had been saved and passed down through the family and I feel fortunate to have been able to present them in my work,” she said. Taome Winter, who previously studied at Hope Academy, was captivated by a handbag in the museum’s collection and decided to explore what people carry in their bags and whether they are a reflection of personality. “I went around members of the public and people who I know, photographing what is in their bags and building up work from that,” she said. “My work is symbolic of an X-Ray exposing the hidden personal contents of the bags I photographed. I purely want to see people’s reactions to the contents – a reflection of today’s judgemental society.”

Hidden in the Cabinet of Curiosities are two feejee mermaids, a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish. However, it was some genuine taxidermy that appealed to several of the students. Sian McMahon created a piece that consists of a magpie dressed as Robin Hood, a contemporary version of the character who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, while Mike Helsby was inspired by the museum’s tiger head, dodo and hare. The former Birchwood High pupil has made ceramic versions of the taxidermy heads using the connection between the dodo and hare to Alice in Wonderland. “My animal sculptures create a background for a set of video projections which portray the surreal world of Wonderland,” he said. “I have aimed to capture the witty and eccentric characteristics from each character using quotes from scenes in the film.”

The students’ exhibition opens on May 15. A second exhibition called New Horizons opens the same day. It features a series of landscape paintings – hung frame-to-frame – with their horizon lines at the same height. There is also music composed by local schools around an Ostinato that reflects the idea of a horizon line in music.

Megan Bryce
My original idea was inspired by a small travel writing kit I saw in the Cabinet of Curiosities when I first started the project. I was intrigued by it and I began to think about how many uses this would have had in the past, such as for making notes, creating letters or even writing a poem or story. This simple writing kit could both trigger memories and preserve memories in time. Throughout the project, I have explored the many ways I could present my idea of how memories can be preserved. I looked into a range of artists and themes but I always returned to my initial inspiration. When I first saw the writing kit I imagined war, how it made a huge impact on so many and how the writing kit would have been used to create letters between soldiers and their loved ones. Then I began to imagine the preservation of the letters so that their memories could be cherished in the future. I have chosen to base my theme on my Great Grandparents, Walter and Olive Bryce who wrote to each other during WW1. Some of the letters have been saved and passed down through the family and I feel fortunate to be able to present them in my work.

Ellie Warburton
My inspiration for this piece was the Orrery from the Museum's collection. Its old fashioned and mechanical appearance stood out to me when I first visited the collection, and made me want to find out more about the history of the Orrery and why it's here in Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.
An Orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system which shows the relative positions and motions of each planet and moon. The Orrery in the collection is now considered factually incorrect, as more accurate information about the Solar system is known. Throughout my project I explored outdated theories and laws. I came across the miasmatic theory of disease which originated in England in the Middle Ages. This was a theory that diseases were passed through polluted air caused by rotting organic matter. This theory was eventually disproved and rejected when germ theory replaced it.
I decided to create a machine or system which people in the past could have used to protect themselves from diseases. After having this idea, I began to research different artists who work with weird and ridiculous inventions that have no purpose. Heath Robinson was one of my main inspirations, he is a WW1 illustrator who created ridiculous inventions which were based on day-to-day tasks.
During the making stage, I was influenced by the steampunk style, which helped me make the machine look authentic, as if it were really used in the past.

Mike Helsby
I was privileged to be given the opportunity to be an honorary curator of Warrington Museum's Cabinet of Curiosities. When I visited the Museum I was inspired by the taxidermy tiger head, the dodo and the hare. I decided to create four ceramic versions of the taxidermy heads using the connection between the dodo and the hare and their link to Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton's versions). My animal sculptures create a background for a set of video projections which portray the surreal world of Wonderland. Using anthropomorphism I'm linking characters from Alice in Wonderland to various animals that I have sculpted in clay. I have aimed to capture the witty and eccentric characteristics from each character using quotes from scenes in the film. My video projections combine characteristics from the following: Alice – Ape Mad Hatter – Wolf Cheshire cat – Tiger Queen of Hearts – Walrus

Taome Winter
My inspiration for this work is handbags and the significant role they often play in somebody's life, whether it be making them feel stylish or acting as a temple for what they want to carry around, which can often be a reflection of someone's personality. Over time bags have been made for all sorts of purposes this is still the case today. What do people actually carry in their handbags and how does this reflect their personality? I went around members of the public and people who I know, photographing what is in their bags and building up work from that. My work is symbolic of an X-Ray exposing the hidden personal contents of the bags I photographed. I purely want to see people's reactions to the contents - a reflection of today's judgemental society.


Abby Hobbs
My chosen theme is time and how time is the greatest ruler. Time has been controlling the way in which we live since the beginning of the world and will continue to be the ruler until the very end. The earliest time measurement devices before clocks and watches were sundials, hourglasses and water clocks. Throughout history people have also used imaginary ways to tell the time, many of which have been passed on through generations; for example, how many puffs of breath it takes to blow away all the seeds of a dandelion.
I have created a pillar of time. The concrete block has four different sides representing areas of time that may control people in their daily life and have done over the years, such as Chinese zodiacs, Aztec stone, words associated with time and multiple clock faces. Inside of the pillar there are different animals that have evolved over time. I started with dinosaurs at the bottom due to these becoming extinct, leading onto wild animals that vary from endangered to more common species of domestic animals.

Charlie Cowell
How is an old fashioned microscope connected to a disturbed Jack in the box?
My project started with a charming microscope which belonged to someone called William Wilson. From this starting point I decided to explore ideas of technology - its uses, its downfall and how it has impacted society. Most of my inspiration came from the art of the Chapman brothers as I wanted to take a darker approach to the project. I decided to show how we are exposed to technology as children and how this could potentially create disorders in sensitive minds.
I used the Jack in the box to represent a child and how technology is mutating and affecting young people psychologically using physical violence and imagery as symbolism. I also made an adaptation of Tim Burton's style to create a set of clowns as background imagery. This was due to the character "Jack", despite the exterior being suggestive of skin, organs and a presence of characters. The box suggests it knows it is being watched and looks back at its audience asking for judgement, acknowledgement and understanding. Coming out of the box is a lifeless puppet, trying to escape yet immobile. It has an ironic twist as it anthropomorphises the character yet implies lifelessness. Lurking inside the box is Jack who is dragging the puppet back into the box. The inside of the box represents the mind of the child and how it's demons control it. Reflecting this is the environment around the box, which represents the child's curiosity and freedom of expression.

Megan Nugent
My project began as a response to the folklore boxes that are in the Cabinet of Curiosities. I chose to respond to the folklore boxes because I have always been interested in mythology and folklore so this was a very personal project for me.
I was inspired by one folklore box in particular, which had a stone inside for healing and protection. This idea then evolved into a response to the seven deadly sins. With this in mind, I experimented with ideas and materials that I thought would work best for the project; for example, pewter, glass, wood and plastic. A lot of my inspiration has come from Grayson Perry and the Chapman Brothers as I aimed to develop a very naïve style to my work. I wanted to take a contemporary approach to the seven deadly sins, developing themes that could be classed as sins in today's society. I have created a set of seven coins, as coins have two sides (like most sins). The seven deadly sins originate from the ancient Christian beliefs of pride, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy and sloth. For my interpretation I have chosen to incorporate imagery on each coin reflecting each sin. These include cartoons or iconic symbols that my generation have grown up with, such as Road Runner (wrath), Sonic the hedgehog (sloth) and Ronald McDonald (gluttony).

Sian McMahon
After a visit to Warrington Museum & Art Gallery, I looked into the work of honorary curators from the past and the current Museum collections. I researched into the history of the Cabinet of Curiosities, and saw some very rare pieces of work and historic artefacts which sparked my interest.
My inspiration comes from an interesting Polly Morgan piece named 'A long hard look in the mirror' which highlights the concept of life and death using interesting and surprising objects. Polly Morgan creates striking taxidermy pieces often with deep hidden meanings that are designed to shock the viewer, which is my intention with my piece. My work consists of a magpie that is dressed as Robin Hood. This suggests a contemporary version of the character who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. This is a response using a favourite childhood Disney story which highlights a theme of loss of childhood innocence by using high branded loot that our modern day society presents as a measure of success.

 

For more information visit: http://cabinet.warringtonmuseum.co.uk/