Cabinet of Curiosities

The history of nature museums embodies influences and exchanges, engaging with broader cultural purposes. Also called the “cabinets of curiosities”, Renaissance museums were personal, quaint, and varied in character. Specimen collections expanded and slowly formed contemporary nature museums, with displayed items arranged in a gridded manner. Referred to as “Temples of Nature” or “Cathedrals of Science”, nature museums represent an ideological and spiritual ideal for the natural science discipline. 

Titled “Liveliness Capsules: On Nature Displays in Natural History Museums”, the portable installation intends to question the means of displays in natural history museum institutions as ways of viewing and understanding nature. It consists of 28, 1 cubic inch capsules, each contains an animal trapped its designated environment. The selected animals represent the range of species in museum collections: from polar bear, rhino, bat, fox, to underwater creatures such as dolphin, octopus, and shark. As with the grid-like organization of the museum of curiosities, these cubic capsules are arranged accordingly into one rectangular box, forming a gridded display of animals in individual cells.




For nature museums, specimens were often arranged in display cases as dioramas, accompanied with a habitat environment. The taxidermies are combined in a fashion that best represents a habitat type. Meanwhile, worries about vanishing nature and lost habitat, in combination with the goal of entertaining the visitors, museum habitats were constructed as real as possible. The liveliness for displaying natural habitats became necessary in making the natural, or convincing display environments. Just like the dioramas in nature museums, these cube capsules provide individual and truncated views of nature at a smaller scale. To achieve the similar environmental determinism and ambition for liveliness in nature museums, the installation constructs animals and environments into a similar fashion. The animals are picked from mass-manufactured, realistic rubber miniatures, before being installed into plastic cubes among its typical environment, being sandscape, seascape, grassland, wetland, woodland, forest, etc.

By mimicking and representation nature displays with a realistic approach, the work intends to interrogate the dominant understandings of nature for natural history museums and to respond with a mirroring language. Just like nature museums that mimic nature, the installation provides a comment on the display of nature museums through an uncanny twist. Viewers are to encounter the work with a nature museum-like absorption while feeling a slight unease.