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Glenbow opens a cabinet of curiosities in new show

By Diltaj Atwal, March 19 2015 —

Museum exhibits usually organize information in a linear and straightforward way. But the Glenbow Museum’s newest exhibit,  Cabinets of Curiosity, takes this experience to bizarre and strange places.

The exhibit is a collection of flamboyant and eye-catching oddities from the prairies of Alberta to the coasts of Australia. The cabinets hold items such as a tattooed doll, a cow skeleton and small miniature Dalmatian figurines.

Exhibit creator Lyndal Osborne says the show comes from the 17th-century tradition of ‘wunderkammer,’ or wonder rooms. During that time, it was fashionable for wealthy people to assemble collections of unusual and exotic items to stand as a testament to their affluence and status.

“Floor to ceiling was covered in objects, maybe a turtle shell right next to a shrunken head. Sometimes they had frightening things like human skulls,” Osborne says. “I wanted [the exhibit] to have some aspects to be a little bit unnerving. Some of the actual objects have a dark side to them too.”

Osborne says the show is about experimentation and creating new meanings by juxtaposing unrelated objects.

“When I was invited to do this show I thought a cabinet of curiosity was a way to enable you to put things together that don’t necessarily belong,” Osborne says. “You can have things from the popular world with something natural.”

The displays fuse natural and frightening items with mystery and wonder. The interactive exhibit encourages people to open and explore the cabinets’ compartments, which are brimming with oddities.

Osborne, a visual artist from Edmonton, was born in Australia and immigrated to Canada in 1971. The exhibition is inspired by her experiences and is made from objects she collected from places she’s lived and visited.

The exhibition is on display at the Glenbow Museum from now until Jan. 17, 2016.

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