A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Modern Age
Harriet Bart's recent exhibition at Driskoll | Babcock was an installation balancing earthy materials and scientific objects in order to initiate empirical observation usually saved for the laboratory. We are all used to dissecting art’s imagery in order to reach a personal conclusion of its meaning. Bart’s “observation” is a clever gesture about scientific empiricism because her art objects are borrowed from a realm most intend to divide from the humanities and the arts. Science is empirical truth through observation: Art is personal creation one then observes. This is an age old aporia and a discontent of Art and artists working with science and technology.
By Danielle Kalamaras
The Driscoll Babcock Press Release states, “A renowned conceptual artist, Bart identifies her tools as the “narrative power of objects, the theatre of installation, and the intimacy of the artist’s book.’” In “Autobiography”, test tubes mounted on the wall are filled with delicate objects and ephemera diagrammed inside a book placed underneath the rack on a pedestal.
Her art follows a similar journey as Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes. A Wunderkammer at heart, we are distanced from these intimate worlds' existence; we cannot penetrate its space because we are blocked by a sheath of glass, and we cannot experience its time because the mementos are archaic. Bart operates as an antiquarian shielding esoteric ephemera in order to preserve its world.
Existing as a time capsule, we realize our love and intrigue for these curiosity cases is because we cannot enter its world and are always set at a distance, allowing our thoughts to reach a space of nostalgic reflection. Nostalgia is a romantic pathos almost lost to contemporary society’s instant cyberworld, where we no longer have to remember or reflect because in a second we can visualize our thoughts through social media posts or internet image searches. Bart creates nostalgia by placing emphasis on the power of objects that discard an Image one can instantly posses and hold forever through a snap of a camera, because her mementos act according to the power of empirical observation and direct personal experience. We may create our own Images of her work, but its power comes from our inability to capture its essence.