The 300-level, practice-based, research-driven AHARDP301 course took as a point of departure the student's cultural backgrounds and affiliations; the trajectories that traverse their current lives and interests will become personal search queries in the creation of their own version of a Cabinet of Curiosities, also known as Wonder-room. In doing so they made use of the collection presented in the Wonderkamers of the Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg. These re-opened to the public on Saturday October 5th 2019, in a setting focusing on arts & sciences. Certain elements of these ‘wonder-rooms’ can be viewed in the online collection of the Royal Zeeland Society of Sciences, Volkenkundige Collectie (trans. ethnographic collection). KZGW is a so-called learning society that hosts a vast collection encompassing over 33,000 pieces including naturalia, maps, musical instruments, archeological findings, etc. In 2019, KZGW celebrates its 250th anniversary.

Classes combine making and reflecting. Guest interventions add a diversity of perspectives on the course work; reading fragments and conversations lend a reflective framework for the hands-on work in class. Self-study time is dedicated to keeping track of and reflecting on the work process in an online logbook (here on Notion), which students use as a visual support and tool for thinking throughout the semester.

Cabinets of Curiosities were popular amongst rich collectors of imperial powers in the 16th and 17th centuries; the cabinets were used to display ‘wonders of the world’, categorized as naturalia, artificialia, scientifica, and exotica; similar collections set up by the merchant class and early practitioners of science in Europe led to the form of the museum as we know it today. Cabinets of Curiosities continue to speak to the imagination. A the same time, as colonial display structures, they increasingly fall under "contested heritage" discussions.

Opening the Cabinet of Curiosities

KZGW Online - Verzamelingen Zeeuwsch Genootschap online Home

Doek van geklopte boombast (trans. fabric made from beaten tree bark), width 155 cm, made in Tahiti, acquired in 1775, gift from Petrus Bernardus (Pieter) van Damme, Collectie Online, Zeeuws Genootschap.

Students spent the first four weeks of the semester assembling the biographies that intersect with their own lives, paying attention to connect the particular and the universal, and using various visual means (collage, drawing, video). The theoretical and methodological grounding of this preliminary work was Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas (1929), which will be introduced to us by ****curator and writer Christel Vesters, initiator of Unfinished Systems of Non Knowledge.

S Weigel - Epistemology of Wandering.pdf

Unfinished Systems of Non-Knowledge

Plates I,II,III (archived)

Week 2 - first versions of Plates (not to scale yet); tracking how the eye moves through the Plates; giving tags to the visuals, and the meanings that emerge from their arrangement.

Week 7 After many trials, the Plates are presented in the Trouwzaal of the Stadhuis, coinciding with the Seminar on slavery organised by the municipality of Middelburg to re-read its past. Photo Lucie van Damme

Interweaving Biographies HandOut Trouwzaal.pdf

The course dedicated itself to the question: can artefacts from different temporalities and localities help us to reflect on our own socio-cultural positionalities and - agencies today? To support our making, we tapped into theoretical and ethical endeavours that can provide a reflective frame to make work based on heritage and material culture studies: Critical Making.

Critical Making

After fall break, we thus gained insights into the functioning of the Wonderkamers as a site of (re)presentation and interpretation through an encounter with Zeeuws Museum curator Dr. Caroline van Santen, who told us about the new set up, which she directed. The remaining of the semester was spent working independently on an individual Visual Essays, composed of a series of objects inspired by the students' Plates, and contextualised with a selection of artefacts from the ZG Collection and the Wonderkamers, thus leading to a series of imaginary Cabinets. These artistic and critical responses were then materialised in a (combined) medium of choice (interactive installation, performance, guided tour, model making, visual narrative, drawing, series of photographs….) in a series of 'Critical Cabinets'.

Visual Essays – Critical Cabinets