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Wunderkammers invade the Seaport Museum

A scavenger hunt filled with delightful surprises at Foss Seaport

“Illumination” mixed-media by Lisa Kinoshita. Photo courtesy of Lisa Kinoshita

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The exhibition "Wunderkammer: Artifacts, False Memories and Projections" is so uniquely integrated into the projects and collections at the Foss Waterway Seaport that separating the exhibition, curated by Lisa Kinoshita, from the maritime museum's collections is a scavenger hunt filled with delightful surprises.

The show is a collection of Wunderkammers created by a group of the South Sound's better-known artists including: Renee Adams, David Blakesley, Justin Gibbens, Chuck Iffland, Steve Jensen, Alexander Keyes, Lisa Kinoshita, Nicholas Nyland, Holly Senn, Jessica Spring, Brent Watanabe, Mishele Dupree Winter, and Robert Zinkevich, plus collaborative works by the teams of Marc Dombrosky and Shannon Eakins; Alice Di Certo and Kyle Dillehay; and Jenny Pohlman and Sabrina Knowles.

And what, you might ask, is a Wunderkammer? Fair question.  Explorers of the Renaissance age collected natural specimens and a variety of cultural, scientific, and religious artifact to fill the cabinets of curiosity, or wunderkammers, of European royalty. They were like museums in a cabinet or collections of strange oddities  - precursors, perhaps, of Joseph Cornell's artistic boxes.

Some of the wunderkammers in this exhibition were built by the artists and some were found or collected by them, many are combinations of found and built assemblages, and all are fascinating. Most relate in one way or another to bones, feathers, skin, body parts and archeological finds. There is a morbid and grotesque fascination to many of them.

Some of the works are free-standing pieces that are not really wunderkammers at all but relate in spirit, such as Jensen's carved boat funerary objects - free-standing sculptures on plinths that are made of such things as driftwood, chain, boat resin, and a skull, all eerily beautiful. Or Senn's nests made of shredded book pages and Spring's accordion-fold books. Or Pohlman and Knowles' strange wall-hanging sculpture "Homage to the Bush Doctor's Market," two rusted chains draped across a four-or-five-foot expanse of wall from which hang a collection of blown-glass vessels with translucent or frosted surfaces within which can be dimly seen various collected items. Also draped from the chains are items such as beads, feathers and boxes. The work is based on healing markets in Zimbabwe seen on a trip to Africa. It is strangely reminiscent of glass art by William Morris.

Another intriguing find is Kinoshita's "Illumination," a watercolor, ink and pencil drawing of a man, and a calligraphic quote from Pope Francis on pages of sheet music identified by the artist as the libretto from "La Bohéme."

And then there's Watanabe's indescribable tiny video projected onto a picture of a woman. Kinoshita says it is "intentionally infected with a virus so over the course of the show it will pixillate, degrade and possibly disappear."

There is so much more that I wish I had space to describe, if I even could describe it. See it for yourself, you will be glad you did. Plus, the collection at the museum is something everyone should see. Give yourself plenty of time to investigate everything in the collection.

"WUNDERKAMMER: Artifacts, False Memories and Projections," 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
Wed. through Sat. and noon to 4 p.m. Sun., through Aug. 30, $5-$8, free to members and children under 5, Foss Waterway Seaport, 705 Dock St., Tacoma

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