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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ali Baba and the Container of Curiosities

When I was little I used to love the tale from the One Thousand and One Nights about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Ali Baba and his brother were the sons of a poor woodcutter. One day Ali Baba is at work collecting firewood in the forest, and he overheasr a group of forty thieves visiting their treasure store. The treasure is in a cave, the mouth of which is sealed by magic. It opens on the words "open sesame" and seals itself on the words "Close Sesame". When the thieves are gone, Ali Baba enters the cave himself, and takes some of the treasure home.

I always hoped that if I spoke the same magical words and closed my eyes, somewhere some secret doors would open to reveal a cave of wonder. A place filled with sparkling jewels, silks and riches. But (surprisingly!) it never happened.

However, last week I came as close as possible to finally seeing such a place for myself. I was one of the lucky, privileged few to be invited to the preview of Richard Weston's Container of Curiosities in Cardiff. Housed in a shipping container (very apt- who can tell what wonders that container may have once transported?), Richard's idea grew from the Renaissance Cabinet of Curiosities. Wikipedia describes this as:

"...an encyclopedic collection of types of objects whose categorial boundaries were yet to be defined... Modern terminology would categorise the objects as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics (including cabinet paintings) and antiquities. ...[The Cabinet of Curiosities] was regarded as a microcosm or theatre of the world, and a memory theatre... [It] conveyed symbolically the patron's control of the world through it's indoor, microscopic reproduction."

This, indeed, sums up Richard's Container. It's truly magical, containing a plethora of his inspirational objects; from fossils to rock crystals; from flying fish to bangles; from umbrellas to paintings. Indeed a microcosm of Richard's world. Furnishings and artefacts are all inspired by the macro images of rocks, fossils and minerals for which Richard is so well known, combining to form a cave-like place of wonder; a showcase for Richard's inspiration and designs.


The floor is carpeted by a silken river, rushing around 'rock' cushions, the 'waves' taken from the forms found in close-up images of crystals. One wall is filled with glowing light boxes, encasing a collection of jewel-like crystals and rocks: Richard's muses. Beneath, there are drawers filled with further marvellous objects to delight the viewer, and overhead hangs a mineral sky, populated by multicoloured flying fish.


And... (a shameless bit of self-promotion here!) at the far end, the viewer's eye is drawn to my portrait of Richard, painted upon one of his unique printed silk fabrics (as featured in this photo). Such a pleasure for me to see my work presented in these unique and illustrious surroundings!

Now, step a little nearer... The exquisite, intricate qualities of natural objects become extraordinary when viewed up close. Fissures and patterns is in rocks become landscapes... 

Copyright Weston Earth Images

Dendrites become trees...
Copyright Weston Earth Images

I have recently been introduced to the photos of Orest Macina, and these too capture the magic of the natural world in macro. Familiar forms become unrecognisable and abstract when seen out of context and on a different scale; magnified they take on a whole new magnificence.

Orest Macina
Advances in technology have certainly helped us to appreciate these beauties, but artists have been inspired by microcosms for longer than we may imagine. For example, the 19th Century German biologist, naturalist and artist Ernst Haeckel described and published artwork of over 100 detailed, multicoloured illustrations of animals and sea creatures, drawn in the most incredible detail.


Ernst Haeckel
It's amazing what can be discovered when you take the time to truly look at something instead of the cursory glances we usually rely on to take in our surroundings. I think that what I've learnt is that as an artist I don't need to look very far for boundless sources of inspiration. Richard Weston has pursued his passion to the nth degree and created an experience of wonder; a unique vision such as I had only dreamed of as a child, and that is what I love (for in my own practice I strive to create aesthetically beautiful objects that have never been made, or even imagined before).

The Container of Curiosities opened its doors for the first time to the great and the good of Cardiff... namely a lucky class from Albany Road Primary School...


Admission is by invitation only, or the magic words... (open sesame)...




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