On a sultry First Fridays evening in early October, The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative gallery glows gold beneath the dark, overcast sky. People flock to the warmly lit building to see the “Gallery of Curiosities.” Outside, near the door, there’s a small table draped with a white cloth and adorned with candles, where Leslie M. Scott-Jones (a C-VILLE contributor) reads tarot cards for those who opt to sit across from her.
Inside the gallery, Elyse Smith spins fur from a visitor’s beloved pet into yarn, and all around her, floor to ceiling and wall to wall, hang hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of curiosities, oddities, and objects, each item begging more questions than it answers.
In a thick frame sprouting from the wall, the chalky, fragile white skeleton of a two-headed snake. On a table, an apocalyptic diorama; on another table, a pinhole camera. Sprouting from the floor, a mermaid tail. Stored in a cabinet are slender, corked glass vials of animal whiskers and porcupine quills. Human teeth. A loved one’s ashes.
There are planters made from grinning baby doll heads with all manner of cacti, succulents, and leafy greenery poking out the top. One wall holds nine lidded glass jars, each containing a red tomato in a different state of moldy, liquefying decay. Immediately above it are nine more jars containing chocolate Hostess cupcakes, each alarmingly well preserved.
Inspired by the cabinets of curiosities and wunderkammers of Renaissance and Baroque Europe, as well as contemporary museums like the Museum of Psychphonics in Indianapolis and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, the “Gallery of Curiosities” is at The Bridge through the end of the month.
The show seeks to elicit a number of reactions from visitors, says Alan Goffinski, director of The Bridge. What is all this stuff? Where did this come from? Is it really from Charlottesville? Who are the people who collect these things?
“Curiosity is this force within us, this natural thing that we’re born with, that we take on as children, that points us toward the unknown and pulls us into a head space of authentic opportunity for learning and growth,” says Goffinski, and this exhibition is a place to exercise, or perhaps rediscover, that force.
The Bridge put out a call for submissions on its website, via email, social media accounts, and even Craigslist, urging folks to submit things they might have on display in their living rooms, attics, and cellars. More than 50 people from the Charlottesville area contributed items, ranging from Fraternal Order of Police memorabilia to Richard Nixon swag.
Tobiah Mundt contributed felted fantastical creations that she describes as a “sculptural representation of the creatures [found] in the place between asleep and awake.”
Hattie Eshleman’s pinkish-reddish-brownish bodily organ brooches, shiny and moist- looking, are a rumination on the inside turned out. “I would love for the viewer to imagine if they had extra organs other than the heart, liver, lungs, etc.,” says Eshleman. “What might those be? Fear? Intuition? An organ that stores forgotten memories?”
Visitors can test their telepathic connection with another person using the same experiment that Upton Sinclair (author of Mental Radio, a book on telepathy) and his second wife, Mary Craig Sinclair, used. Renee Reighart set up the experiment on a table with side-by-side stations, complete with instructions and suggestions for how to clear one’s mind and prepare to send or receive an image to the person on the other side of the divider. It’s “freaky” when it works, she says, but even when it doesn’t, it’s about the wondrous discovery of potential synchronicity and connection with another person.
In the gallery bathroom, there’s the Actuator, researched and developed by artist and musician Will Mullany, who describes his creation as a “proto-conscious mechanical being that guests are invited to interact with.” Mullany displays his research as well, hoping visitors will “set aside their base human inclination to filter their perceptions through logic and reason and accept the ultimate divine logic of the Actuator into their hearts.” And since it’s tucked away in the bathroom, he says, “it offers a sort of serenity and seclusion for these private revelations.”
In most cases, “you won’t be able to tell…what’s tongue-in-cheek and how much of it is fiction, or how much the truth dabbles in fiction along the way,” says Goffinski. For instance, did Ian Coyle’s belly button really produce that much lint—on display in an 8-inch by 10-inch oval frame—in two months’ time?
Coyle says yes; “even in a year’s long creative block, my tummy kept producing works of art.” But still, questions remain.
At its core, the “Gallery of Curiosities” is “an exhibit for Charlottesville, for the quirkiness that exists in our community,” says Goffinski. The show’s power lies in those who’ve curated it, he says, and it affords us a look into the character—both hidden and otherwise—of our friends and neighbors.
“It’s so damn interesting to learn about people in a show-and-tell sort of way,” says Goffinski.
Check out The Bridge’s calendar for a full listing of Halloween-y events related to the “Gallery of Curiosities” exhibit.