30 october 2015

A macabre intersection of art and science at Mount Allison

A new exhibit at the Owens Art Gallery put curiosities and oddities in the spotlight

CBC News

They're called Wunderkammerns, or cabinets of wonder.

They're curiosities and rarities, collected and housed in cabinets.

The somewhat macabre contents make for a perfect exhibition at this time of year.

Cabinets of Wonder: Art & Science in the Academy and the Community is the name of a new exhibition at Mount Allison University's Owens Art Gallery.

Gemey Kelly is the director and curator of the gallery and she says bringing together art and science in these cabinets of wonder goes way back to the 16th century.

"The idea was that collectors would bring together elements from the natural world with human made things, so you would get science and art coming together, and the idea was that this would create wonder in terms of thinking about the world."

One of Kelly's favourites is a barn owl, turned in to the biology department from Cap-Pelé, though Gay Hansen, a biology instructor, promises no animals were harmed in the making of this exhibit.

"They were all turned in by people who found them dead."

Many of the specimens are in the gallery on loan from the biology department, where Hansen started the collection in the late 1970s.

"We take everything. If it doesn't make a good quality study skin, or a mount, we turn it into feet or skulls, you know, other things we can use for teaching."

More than a hundred people have been through the gallery doors since the exhibit opened on Thursday night.

Browsing through the collection you can't help but wonder about the oddities on display. For example, where did that skeleton come from?

"Well it came from a biological supply company," said Hansen.

"Students ask me that all the time, and I've never been able to find out really, when you ask them they don't even reply to your e-mails."

There's a model of an archaeopteryx, which lived about 160 million years ago and was a cross between a bird and a reptile.

The model was create by a student in the 1980s, from the body of two crows, some wax and brown rice for teeth.

Works and artifacts in the Cabinets of Wonder are from collections at Mount Allison University and the New Brunswick Museum.

The display will be up until Nov. 29.