Geraldine Javier’s show Museum of Many Things at the Valentine Willie Fine Art Gallery presents an amalgamation of vintage mementos, framed animal skeletons, stuffed birds and elaborate needlework in a contemporary take of a Victorian-styled cabinet of curiosities.
While Javier’s assembly of curios appears to be a whimsical indulgence of the macabre, it is as much a nostalgic take on death’s inevitability as it is a layered reference to the early discursive practices of natural history and collecting. Embedded within her materials are pieces appropriated from the remains of an unnamed Creole woman’s now-defunct early twentieth century museum in the Philippines Archipelago; Javier’s theatrical installations utilise the visual language of harsh mortality mitigated by the soft beauty of carefully placed scraps, while paying tribute to the early narratives of human intervention committed to classify and expand systems of knowledge.
The ensuing effect is the presentation of a carefully orchestrated interface between (dead) organisms and a dressed environment that is strangely tantalising in its grotesqueness, a microscopic vision of a grand design that expresses estrangement and disharmony in our flawed universe. Blood Homage (2011) is a row of elaborately decorated cow skulls, below which, stumps of tree-like objects lie. Constructed out of branches, thread and wax, the installation is reminiscent of creative taxidermy that not only preserves the animal’s corpse under the guise of life but one that contributes to the cataloguing of nature while solidifying man’s mastery over his known environment. Next to the cows, tree trunks in a 4-panelled installation bleed 3-dimensionally outward, sheep flee from a conflagration off a mountain in; dead birds lie in-situ in their nests on a dying tree and frog skeletons seem to chase each other in a parody of animated movements.
If museums are ciphers of collective memory that maintain a connection between ancient cultures and civilisations from which our modern sensibilities are derived, Javier’s display cases of exotica – her own museum in miniscule – secures instead, ephemeral and private moments that celebrate quirk, wonder and beauty.
Geraldine Javier: Museum of Many Things is on show until 26 November 2011 at Valentine Willie Fine Art Gallery and is a partner programme of Philippine Art Trek V.