The earliest form of the natural history museum existed in 16th-century Europe under the name of “cabinet of curiosities”, originally private boudoirs of royalties and aristocrats, where exotic objects – from antiques to animal hides, from plants to scientific tools and artworks – were collected and displayed.
The exhibition ‘Illuminated Curiosities’ thus serves as a response to, a critique on, and an expansion of, the age-old concept of “cabinet of curiosities”, borrowing the perspectives of today’s artist-scientists, as they experiment with limits in terms of thematics, materials, and medium to pursue personal and societal curiosities. For us in the 21st century, our curiosities are no longer bound to the walls of these private collections. In both art and science, we have equipped ourselves with groundbreaking tools and methods, and institutional systems have been built specifically for the purpose of challenging limits, unlocking potentials, and discovering wonders. Such curiosities play out on a wide intersectional spectrum between artistic disciplines (painting, sculpture, installation, video, photography, etc.) and natural sciences (geometry, physics, chemistry, anatomy, biology, technology, etc.) along with social sciences (anthropology, linguistics, theology, etc.).
As a framework of reference, the curatorial team has generated eight “points of curiosities” within the intersectional spectrum between science and art, and arranged 46 artworks from 26 artists accordingly across the two campuses of EMASI Nam Long and EMASI Van Phuc. Each “point” (or zone) relates to a thematic or a field, whereby artworks correspond with one or more scientific disciplines, whether in terms of research, production, or display.
Certainly, this categorization does not intend to “box up” artworks into rigid definitions – like what the historical “cabinets of curiosities” strived to achieve – but instead, serve as keywords to generate new conversations. The artworks on display can indeed relate to more than one keyword, and one will need to experience and consider them carefully in order to reach one’s own conclusions. Each viewer is thus invited to restructure and analyze the works based on the “curiosities” that reside within their personal frame of interest, reference and experience.