Pitzer’s Wunderkammer Raises Important Questions

Walking into the Wunderkammer
exhibition at Pitzer College Art Gallery is a bit of sensory overload. There is a
variety of sound and sight—an artistic smorgasbord.

The German word ‘wunderkammer’ translates literally into ‘wonder chamber,’ making the title a fitting description for such a gallery: The
exhibit’s brochure states that it is “an interdisciplinary exhibition that
references the radical display and collection practices of early museums that
emerged in the sixteenth century.” 

The wunderkammer itself was known as one of the first types
of museums. 

“This exhibition explores these museums and the impulse behind their
collections through a twenty-first century lens,” curator Ciara Ennis
said.

Ennis highlighted the obsessive map drawings by Joe Zaldivar as a must-see piece. Zaldivar is an artist from the Tera del Sol Foundation, an organization that works with people who have developmental disabilities. His perspective offers a unique take on the world via his meticulous reinterpretations of map forms.

“His rendition of these very familiar mechanically and digitally produced images allows us to look at them anew,” Ennis said. “And, through doing so, reflect on the kinds of information that we automatically absorb and take for granted.”

An installation quite specific to Pitzer College and its
core values of “environmental sustainability” and “intercultural understanding”
is “Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory” by
Jenny Yurshansky. 

Yurshanksy explores invasive plants and the relationships
between plants considered to be competitors to their native counterparts. For each
plant she created a VISA and documented its place of origin and date of entry. Claire Baker, a friend of the artist who was at the exhibition, noted its deeper
meaning.

“It’s about how arbitrary it is to say that you can’t allow this plant
here, or this person here, when that plant, or that person, has become part of
the culture,” Baker said.

This installation recognizes the growing concern about eventual native extinction caused by the introduction of foreign species. The
individual plant installations are hand-cut silhouettes mounted on board.

A common theme throughout the pieces was the use of a mélange of
mediums for the final product.

“Resonate-Reverberate-Roar”
by Elana Mann featured overlapping sound bytes of cultural or social justice significance. She featured German folk
tune “Abenstille Überall” by Ariana Vielmetter, Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster
recorded by Chase Carter and “hands up don’t shoot” by Trang Ánh Nam in
addition to five other recordings. 

Speaking true to the wunderkammer theme, Mann’s installation serves as a tool for knowledge that blends together sundry societies in
order to create a historical archive.

Another audio-based piece, Life Cycle of Tozoplasma Gondii by Rachel Mayeri, was visually
supplemented by 29 screens of cat clips on loop. The focus on cats and meowing did not
equate to a cute and cuddly installation, however. This work focused on the T. gondii parasite spread by cats—a parasite shared with 30 percent of the human
population.

The screens represented the T. gondii parasite and its life
cycle. 

“The installation explores the relationship between our biological
affinity for cats and the technocultural expression of that desire,” Mayeri
wrote in the snippet about her piece.

There are 19 artists featured in the show from a variety of areas in the L.A. community and with a range of experience levels, but in the words of Ennis, “They have all created their own idiosyncratic worlds that
make one reflect anew.” 

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