Relics of all things precious: Curiosity and wonder in artists’ collections

PhD Thesis

Shafran, Tiffany. 2012. Relics of all things precious: Curiosity and wonder in artists’ collections. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Relics of all things precious: Curiosity and wonder in artists’ collections

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorShafran, Tiffany
SupervisorJohnson, Laurie
Akenson, David
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages258

This thesis proposes that there are specific artists whose practices utilise a collecting methodology as a critical engagement with the world. It argues that even though these artists appear to fit into a museum/archive system, they actually sit parallel to this system. Furthermore, the strategies that they employ navigate the physical, conscious, and unconscious world, creating new directions in collecting to surpass historical models. Therein the thesis examines the misinterpretation of how artists’ collections are situated within a museum or private collection system, proposing instead that these collections should be viewed as an artistic strategy and process for making sense of the world through the repositioning of found and collected objects.
This dissertation will focus primarily on the model of the Wunderkammer, as it represents a historical model of collecting that incorporates a vast array of intuitive and conceptual intentions that sit parallel to the traditional museum archive and collection system. It is within this framework that artists create collections that are concerned with aspects of curiosity, chance, wandering and discovery, which form the basis of their artwork. This strategy was first employed by early Modernist art movements such as Dada and Surrealism to approach the world in a new way, however, this thesis demonstrates that this strategy has become a significant concept in contemporary artistic practce, instrumental in the construction of artworks that challenge the historical, political, cultural, and social narratives that the archival structure provides.
Relics of All Things Precious proposes that collecting is a strategy employed by contemporary artists in the creation of artwork that seeks to make intuitive, marginal, subjective, forgotten, banal, and irrational experiences and events significant by engaging with the historical nature of the archive. These collections have a specific narrative function that represents a synthesis between collective and individual histories, sensible intuition and scientific inquiry, memory and amnesia, fact and fiction, and the material and immaterial. It is through these various strategies that artists interpret the world, creating new work from visual, conceptual, physical and emotional fragments, which in turn makes artists’ collections different from more traditional and historical collecting models.

Keywordsart; artists; museum; collections; Wunderkammer; contemporary art; artistic strategy; collected objects
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020360602. Fine arts
360699. Visual arts not elsewhere classified
360103. Art theory
Byline AffiliationsFaculty of Arts
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