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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Read! Fest 2019 – Predicting The Future with Science Fiction

As part of the sixth installment of Read! Fest by the National Library Board in Singapore, Senior Researcher Dr Ken Kahn from the University of Oxford and I will be giving a talk about how Science Fiction can predict and inspire real-world discoveries and inventions (or vice-versa).

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Here’s the Blurb from Read! Fest 2019:

Programme Synopsis
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke describes a portable flat screen news pad which forecast the iPads that we love and use today years before they were even created. Unconstrained by scientific impossibilities and spurred on by unbounded imagination, science fiction has successfully predicted technologies ranging from earphones and radios to medical drugs like anti-depressants. It continues to be a useful tool to conjure new technologies and explore their impact on society. Join Singaporean based writer Victor Ocampo and Senior Researcher, Dr Ken Kahn from the University of Oxford as they share their perspectives on the genre and their love for sci-fic and ultimately attempt to answer the question: Does Science Fiction Predict or Inspire?

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About the Speakers
Dr Ken Kahn’s interest in science fiction from early childhood eventually led him to join the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab which awarded him a doctorate in 1979. As part of his master’s thesis he built a system that could understand Robert Heinlein’s story All You Zombies – a very convoluted time travel story. He now does research at the University of Oxford and teaches at Yale-NUS.

Victor Fernando R. Ocampo is a Singapore-based Filipino writer. He is the author of The Infinite Library and Other Stories (Math Paper Press, 2017) and Here be Dragons (Canvas Press, 2015), which won the Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Award in 2012. His writing has appeared in many publications including Apex Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Philippines Graphic, Science Fiction World and QLRS, as well as anthologies like Best New Singapore Short Stories and Maximum Volume: Best New Philippine Fiction.

This year Read! Fest is anchored on the theme of Voyage. Book a trip with us and discover alternative forms of reading at Read! Fest 2019 programmes as we journey through space and time, only from 22 June – 28 July.

When and Where: Saturday 20 July 2019, 11:00 to 11:30 AM at the Imagination and Possibility Room, The National Library, 1000 Victoria Street, Singapore.

For more details, visit check out the NLB site here.

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