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UAL Research Online

Wearing the Wunderkammer: A practice-led analysis of cabinets of curiosities, examining the quality of curiosity and applying it to a fashion exhibition

Hill, Colleen Rachel (2023) Wearing the Wunderkammer: A practice-led analysis of cabinets of curiosities, examining the quality of curiosity and applying it to a fashion exhibition. PhD thesis, University of the Arts London.

Type of Research: Thesis
Creators: Hill, Colleen Rachel

This practice-led thesis examines the philosophical concepts and physical characteristics of cabinets of curiosities to determine how they can be applied to the creation of a contemporary exhibition of fashion. Cabinets of curiosities, also known as wunderkammern, were privately-owned collections and spaces belonging to royals, aristocrats, and affluent scholars—predominantly white, European men—from the late fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The cabinets are often considered precursors to the modern museum (Hill, 1986: 148). Objects within them generally fell within one of two broad categories: naturalia (natural objects) and artificialia (man-made artefacts)(1). Artificialia included items of fashion2, primarily from non-European cultures. Although the reasons for the collection of fashion are not explicit, sixteenth-century scholar Samuel Quiccheberg (2014 [1565]) implied its use as a marker of history and genealogy, as well as a representation of the ceremonies and customs of diverse cultures.

This study includes the identification and compilation of fashion objects in extant cabinets of curiosities collections and historic catalogues, which I suggest has resulted in a significant contribution to knowledge on this subject. Furthermore, while visual and spatial references to cabinets of curiosities have coalesced with fashion in recent exhibitions, retail environments, and advertising, these have not been the subject of critical analysis. My research aims to fill that gap. Although previous studies have demonstrated the relationship between museum experiences and psychology (Uzzell, 1993; Smith and Wolf, 1996; Hein, 1998; Csikszentmihalyi and Hermanson, 1999; Paris, 2002; Bitgood, 2013; Hohenstein and Moussouri, 2018; Meyer et al, 2023), the psychological study of curiosity as it might be applied to curatorial strategies has been only scarcely exercised, and its potential links to fashion are absent. This thesis forges new connections between psychological theory, museology, and fashion display, forming an original research framework that can be utilised by museum professionals in other disciplines who aim to stimulate visitors’ curiosity. The full result of this research is a theoretical fashion exhibition3 that proposes tangible concepts for evoking curiosity, encompassing ideas for exhibition design, object selection, textual interpretation, and public programming.

(1) The use of Latin to categorise the objects is notable. As the universal language of scholars and scientists, Latin underscores the concept of cabinets of curiosities as sites of knowledge. 2I have chosen to use the term fashion, rather than dress or another equivalent, throughout this thesis. My reason for this is articulated in a section of the Introduction, ‘Terminology’.

Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: September 2023
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2024 15:21
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2024 15:21
Item ID: 21551
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/21551

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