Cabinet of Curiosities

Unlocking Knowledge by Jon Jaylo

Cabinet of Curiosities
An exhibit by Jon Jaylo, Ernst & Young Gallery, 29 November 2013 to 28 February 2014

In the days before museums were readily accessible, Cabinets of Curiosities were fantastic microcosms that attempted to document the full breadth and wonder of the world. Known as “Wunderkammern” or “Kunstkammern,” they were astonishingly eclectic assemblages of natural wonders (naturalia), scientific instruments (scientifica), precious art works (artificialia), ethnography (exotica), and inexplicable, magical objects (mirablia) that represented their creator’s interest in understanding and ordering the world.

Throughout history, many artists such as Frans II Francken, Albrecht Dürer, and more recently, Damien Hirst, as well as the Surrealists in particular (members of the the Exhibition of Surrealist Objects in Paris, 1937) — have drawn on the mysterium tremendum and liminality they had experienced through these curious collections to connect their art to the realm of dreams and non-rational knowledge. The writer and poet Andre Breton posited that Surrealist theory sought to “re-enchant the universe” and he believed that “ the crisis of objects could be overcome if the thing in all its strangeness could be seen as if anew.”

Like the early curators of kunstkammers, neo-surrealist Jon Jaylo has collected the strange and the sundry to create an exhibit of works that mediate with the world, albeit one created from his imagination. He displaces the meaning of ordinary images – apples, houses, keys and dominoes by removing them from their expected context, defamilarizing them and storing them on canvas, the “cabinet shelves” of his own unique vision.

In this exhibit, Jaylo presents his own virtual Cabinet of Curiosities, one that he says was “inspired by the ordeals we all endure and tackle, and more specifically the pain we experience. The paradox of life is that pain is an aphrodisiac for strength, clarity of thought, even confidence.”

“The Tale of Two Travelers” (Oil on canvas,122 x 91cm) shows a husband and wife improbably moving an old house across an ominous blue ocean. Their domicile restricts their vision, yet they blindly move forward, a methaphor perhaps for immigrants who struggle towards new land, hoping from greener pastures across the dark waters. The house is the couple’s container, the vitrine that keeps them seemingly safe yet cuts them off from reality.

“Unlocking Knowledge” is a small work featuring an antique key about to open an improbable lock on a red delicious apple –- the traditional symbol for the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. But what sort of knowledge is contained inside?

In “Finding Humility LR” a headless king sits on a tower of dominoes. A mysterious hand is shown to the left — either building the tower or perhaps taking it apart. Like the fate that befell Ozymandias in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s eponymous poem, the impending disaster is a reminder to those who have grown mighty that no matter what they create or how confident they grow, time will tear them all down.

Finding Humility by Jon Jaylo

All the paintings in Jaylo’s Cabinet of Curiosities form an obsessional and fantastic collection that celebrates the strange and numinous . His work is a reminder that Surrealism is alive and well, persisting as a meaningful reference for the artist’s particular visual sensibility, one where ordinary images are combined in unusual ways to suggest another, perhaps darker plane of reality. This is the sole unifying theme of the show — that of Jaylo wanting to guide his audience away from familiar things towards the unfamiliar, like a stack of kunstkammer shelves that lead towards the mysteries of Life.

Andre Breton’s 1928 Surrealist book Nadja ends with a ringing assertion: ‘Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all.’ Jaylo’s work showcases an uncanny, convulsive beauty of its own, one which causes a frisson of the senses, filling the viewer with wonder while at the same time unsettling ordinary sensibilities with his extraordinary vision.

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“The Infinite Library And Other Stories” a My Book Of The Year Selection

Singapore Unbound

Singaporean writers, artists, and thinkers, living in Singapore and abroad were asked by the editors of Singapore Unbound for their favorite read of the year. Thank you to Singapore Literature Prize winner Ng Yi-Sheng for selecting my book.

Ng Yi-Sheng, poet, playwright, and fictionist. The Infinite Library and Other Stories by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2017). This may be the best collection of spec fic stories I’ve ever read by a Singapore-based author. The tales are wonderfully baroque, from a steampunk vision of Filipino national hero José Rizal at a naturist colony to a post-apocalyptic tale of a man cultivating crops and a digital transmitter in the world’s last library. Ocampo takes risks with form—stories are told with multiple endings, in the form of archaeological surveys and in SMS-speak—but manages to make all his tales share a single universe, with the same immortal characters and references (including the eponymous library) popping up in different plots. (I’m also intrigued by how Ocampo complicates our conceptions of Singaporean literature: he began writing in Singapore and is active in the local literary scene, but his fiction reflects his background as a cosmopolitan citizen of the Philippines. He’s got a south-south biculturalism thing going on, and it’s awesome.)

Coincidentally, my favorite Singaporean book of 2018 is Yi-Sheng’s exquisitely surreal Lion City Stories (Epigram, 2018).

You can read the rest of SP Blog’s 5th Annual Books Round-up here.

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