Museums are wormholes to other worlds. They are ecstasy machines.
Follow your eyes to wherever they lead you… and the world should begin to change for you.
- Jerry Saltz, Art Critic, New York Magazine
Curiosity’s like a fun friend you can’t really trust. It turns you on and then
it leaves you to make it on your own - with whatever guts you can muster.
- Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
A curio sparks curiosity. The dictionary tells us that a curio is a rare, unusual, or intriguing object. But a curio’s capacity to spark curiosity relies not simply on objective qualities. Rather, it demands an embodied act of musing – a personal, cultural and worldly encounter, mingling memory and imagination with a desire for knowledge and change. Such curious encounters – simultaneously delightful and unsettling – are transformative events.
If we trace the root meaning of curio, we find not just curiosity but an underlying activity – to care. A curio holds our interest and provokes concern, stirring courageous thought and action. Collecting, creating and sharing curios is a way of carefully musing on our curious relation with one another and the world. This is how Studio Curio will begin. Translating these curiosities into architectural propositions will take “whatever guts you can muster.”
Students in Studio Curio will ultimately design museums on topics and sites of their own choosing, but we will begin these architectural musings gradually by assembling collections of curios into Cabinets of Curiosity and Places for Musing.
Inspired, in part, by a Wunderkammer exhibition at the 2012 Venice Biennale, students will gather, arrange and display eclectic collections of objects, artifacts, specimens, fragments, models and phenomena. Students will study works by artists incorporating found objects in mixed media collages and assemblages, including the allegorical paintings of Arcimboldo, “ready-mades” of Marcel Duchamp, “combines” of Robert Rauschenberg, and the delightful box constructions of Joseph Cornell – whose artifacts act as “window-poems,” “thing-constellations,” “dream-factories,” “laboratories,” “hotels,” “museums,” “gardens,” “observatories” and “theaters of the mind.”
In addition to making individual Cabinets of Curiosity, Studio Curio students will collectively create a full-scale interactive in[STALL]ation – at a downtown site – as invited participants in the Winnipeg Design Festival. This is a remarkable opportunity for students to share and test their curious experiments with a broader audience, while cultivating public discourse on the purpose of musing and the potential of museums.
The fall term will entail creative research on curatorial approaches, modes of public engagement, and exemplary museum precedents (from the ancient Museum of Alexandria to the MAXXI marvel of Zaha Hadid). We will go behind-the-scenes at local museums, and take a research trip to Philadelphia and Washington DC, where we will explore magnificent museums by David Adjaye, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Douglas Cardinal, I. M. Pei, Gordon Bunshaft and more. These urban adventures are intended to spark curiosity in cities as complexly layered living museums, with eclectic accumulations of informal street art and formal memorials, together with assemblages of everyday life and public spaces that keep alive the hopes and memories of transformative cultural events: minor events, like encountering a gregarious stranger; and more historic events, such as signing the Declaration of Independence (in Philadelphia), or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech” (in DC).
We will also tackle the problematic links between “high culture” museums and colonization, and the propagandistic representations of power that official museums can embody. In Washington we will visit Maya Lin’s critically controversial design for the Vietnam War Memorial. In Philadelphia, we will visit the Eastern State Penitentiary, designed in the 18th-century as a menacing panopticon. Now in a ruinous state, this architectural work raises awareness of archaeological sites as museums, and the sublime power and limits of all-encompassing views, famously questioned by Michel Foucault as expressions of hegemonic control. We will also explore the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and carefully consider how a new wave of museums (exemplified by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama) are based less on objects and more on social experience and transformation.
As serious and challenging as musing may turn out to be, Studio Curio will begin playfully and artfully by gathering curious objects, cares and concerns, and gradually expanding curiosity, through careful [re]musing, to creatively [re]frame and [re]form the great Wunderkammer of this ever-changing world.
The objects that we cherish tell stories...
They are chosen by intuition and... wandering logic ...
It is curiosity that is the unifying quality of a creative mind.
- Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Wunderkammer
Top centre: Joseph Cornell, 3 Shadow Boxes: Object (Soap Bubble Set), 1941; A Parrot for Juan Gris, 1953-57; Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire, 1954. Right top: 1) Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-23, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; 2) Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Barnes Foundation, completed 2012, Philadelphia; 3) Rachel Whiteread, “Untitled (Stairs),” 2001, part of a 2018 retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; 4) David Adjaye, with Freelon (Perkins+Will), Bond/SmithGroupJJR, National Museum of African American History and Culture, completed 2016, Washington, DC.