As a part of their Local Issues and Locales course, the Honours in Curatorship students explored various collections on Upper Campus. Dylan Owen shares his views on the curatorship of the Physics Department’s collection.
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On the 28th of September, the Local Issues in Curatorship class took a visit to UCT’s Upper Campus to explore the collections and curated projects dotted throughout the university buildings.

One of the more eye -catching works was the recently installed array of objects in the Physics Laboratory 1 (PHYLAB I), curated by UCT MFA graduate Madeline Groenewald. The work features various physics paraphernalia installed up the full length of the double volume laboratory, arranged near-symmetrically on either side of a green board. The various objects were sourced from the Physics Department’s collection of obsolete paraphernalia which there is apparently an abundance of, according to the Department’s HOD Professor Andy Buffler. This is suggested by both the nature of the objects on display and their arrangement. However, there are some objects amidst the transistors and barometers and thermometers, such as a 19th century camera, which disturb the order of the collection.

The installation gives a rich warmth to the otherwise cold space through its use of brass and wood, and appears like something out of a steam punk comic. With seemingly little in the way of concept or meaning in the piece, it stands instead as an aesthetic distraction to alleviate the eye from the otherwise clinical space.

It must be noted that there seems to be a common trope within the curatorial framework around this collection and others similar to it in various departments on UCT’s Upper Campus – The Mark Dion Cabinet of Curiosities, where Science meets the Wunderkamer. While Groenewald’s installation is not actually set behind a cabinet and is instead nailed to the walls, or positioned on ‘floating’ shelves, there is something about the aesthetic that is ‘Wunderkameresque’. A random collection of objects assigned value by being placed on display, the unreachable height of the work resonates that same alienation that is present in objects behind glass in a Cabinet of Curiosities. It is interesting to note that Upper Campus is saturated by these Cabinets (many of which have been curated by people affiliated with the Art Department). Groenewald’s installation may attempt to break the monotony of the actual Wunderkamers on Upper Campus, however I feel it resembles them too closely for it to be something entirely different or to encourage different responses. Perhaps this marks a challenge with collections based in the realms of Science, they tend to lend themselves to be displayed in such a manner.

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Images taken From UCT Physics Department’s Facebook page