18th century doll and other oddities featured in Cabinet of Curiosity in Saskatoon

A cabinet of curiosities is a room filled with strange objects: pieces of art, science and culture that surprise and delight or maybe give you the creeps. They were popular in Europe during the Renaissance. Now Saskatoon has one of its own.

Bridges Art Movement artist collective collects strange objects for latest show

This wax doll with human hair from the 18th Century is a genuine artifact at the Bridges Art Movement Cabinet of Curiosity show. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

A cabinet of curiosities is a room filled with strange objects: pieces of art, science and culture that surprise and delight or maybe give you the creeps. They were popular in Europe during the Renaissance.

Now Saskatoon has one of its own thanks to the Bridges Art Movement (BAM).

BAM, an artist collective, has created a Cabinet of Curiosity in the Drinkle Mall, with almost 30 creatives from the city donating objects, each with its own special story.

Alison Norlen brought a doll from the 18th Century made entirely of wax with human hair. She bought it at a thrift store in Virginia.

"The fact that this thing is still, in the most part, all together and hasn't melted or broken is really cool but also it's just this delicate, super creepy doll that you would never see in today's time," said Dave Stonhouse, co-director of BAM.

In some cases, like Norlen's doll, the artists found the objects, but Stonhouse said in other cases the object found them.

Travis Cole found this doll made out of a crab apple in a back alley. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Travis Cole's submission of a crab apple doll is one such case.

The doll was sitting on a ledge in an alley and it caught Cole's attention. It's shrivelled, blackened face is carved out of an apple that has long rotten.

"It kept on kind of catching his eye as he was walking down this alley and eventually he had to inspect it and couldn't leave it after inspecting it," Stonhouse said. "So I feel like that one kind of found Travis."

JS Gauthier, the artist-in-residence at the synchrotron, brought a series of 3D printed sculptures that start with a half-formed chicken embryo and evolve into one of the world's oldest sculptures, the Venus of Willendorf.

This display by JS Gauthier highlights the similarities between a chicken embryo (far left) and one of the oldest known carvings (far right). (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

It's not all creepy dolls and [3D printed] embryos, though. There are also thought-provoking and even beautiful art pieces as part of the collection.

There are around 40 to 50 objects in the space. They're displayed much like a typical art show, despite it not necessarily being typical art.

There are write ups describing the history of each object. Stonhouse said the story is often just as interesting as the object itself.

"I would like people to look at the objects and kind of discover them first through just looking at them and kind of wondering about them and then after reading the text panel that goes with it kind of go, 'Ah!' or 'What?' So it's it's all kind of really fun and a lot of discovery."

A close up on Fowl Language by Arthur Perlett. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

While some of the objects are genuine artifacts, Stonhouse said some are not, which is in keeping with traditional cabinets of curiosities.

"There were people exploring new lands and there's scientific discoveries and a lot of kind of excitement around new things so people started to collect specimens and artifacts of history or something to show us a scientific discovery — something from a new undiscovered place," he said. "Then people started making fake objects."

At BAM's Cabinet of Curiosity, the artist might leave hints in the story about the object but otherwise it will be up to you to decide which objects are real and which are fake.

"That's part of the fun and part of the play with this one, is like, yes there's found things, there's created things, there's some that could be either."

BAM's Cabinet of Curiosity is open Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The show runs until March 9.


Ashleigh Mattern is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Saskatoon Morning


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