The Kunstkammer

Historically, Kunstkammers were magical places. A precursor to the museum, they originated in the castles and manors of European nobility in the sixteenth century. They held collections of various, dissimilar objects that demonstrated the owner’s curiosity about the world. The rooms were places for contemplation, but they were also often the site of meetings where people could come together to share ideas and discussion. In Renaissance Quarterly, Francesca Fiorani wrote, “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater,” and in this sense, my hope is that the viewer will engage with installation to consider the viewer’s place in the world.

Operating from Year 2199, “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” bends time and history by blending historical fact and imagined fictions to tell a story from the future about the present. The stories and perspective 180 years in the future will be different than what we know today. Knowledge will be gained, but it will also be lost. “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” invites the viewer to employ what writer Alexis Clements describes as art’s great technology, “to inquire about the world without being limited to facts or logic or notions of objective truth.” The installation also takes a nod from John Green’s Looking for Alaska, in which he observes, “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.” We use our memories to imagine the potential of what may happen, but also what we can accomplish or achieve, to entertain what is possible. In creating and recreating this Kunstkammer, I invite the viewer to enter this theater of memory and consider the future of themselves and their community.

The objects in “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” continue a practice of intervening on photographic portraits to portray a moment of expanded consciousness. I do this by collaging digital reproductions of the photographs that are embellished with paint or collaged elements. My intention in doing this is to bring the photograph into the present moment and create a connection between the viewer and history. “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” includes sculptures and paintings that serve as physical manifestations of stories. Every object in “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” has a story attached to it.

Some of the stories told about Rutland seem may silly but they are similar to the stories we tell about other cultures, stitched with ignorance and fantasy as we try to fill in the gaps of knowledge. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the danger of the single story, how simple narratives of others result in a poor understanding of our complex, shared humanity. This applies as much to the coworker sitting next to us as it does to the people living on a continent across the ocean. And it applies to ourselves when we decide that our story is simple and limited. Every person can write their own story, but to do that, they must imagine all the stories that are possible. My hope for the viewer is “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” prods this thinking.

The ongoing series of installations debuts in Rutland. Over the next five years, I plan to move the Kunstkammer around North America and grow it to a thousand pieces as it is installed in and responds to various communities. The installation features some imagery of people from Rutland’s history. The photographs and stories blend facts and fictions. The introductory statement was made by replacing the word “Africa” with “Rutland” in the wall texts for the African Art collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Viewers are invited to enter the room and imagine the greatness of Rutland, past and future. Viewers are also invited to consider what is real and what is imagined, how we know what we know, and how we choose which histories to tell. Knowledge evolves over time and it is foolish to consider what we know now will not also evolve. And that is the point of “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX”: to lead us to new knowledge and realities.

In Exhibition

“Rutland: Real and Imagined”
Curated by Stephen Schaub
Alley Gallery, Center Street Alley, Rutland, Vermont
January 31st to March 9th, 2019

Opening Reception: February 9, 2019, 6-8PM


For the exhibition, “Rutland: Real and Imagined”, I convert a room of the gallery into a Kunstkammer, or Cabinet of Curiosities. The installation features sculptural objects and small, collaged, historic photographs, some of which reference people from Rutland’s history. Viewers will be invited to enter the room and imagine the greatness of Rutland, past and future. In addition to the installation, I created a book that has images and writing from the project.

Rutland: Real and Imagined from Stephen Schaub on Vimeo.


John Dreams of Lemons by Ric Kasini Kadour
(8″x8″; collage print on paper; 2018)

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