Societies have long been spellbound by the peculiar, the extraordinary and bizarrely scientific. Long before museums were established, cabinets of curiosities celebrated this through compilations of oddities—artifacts, minerals, taxidermy pieces, spiritual and medical tools and paintings—displayed to be considered, studied and remembered.
In Wunder Kammer at the Winchester Cultural Center gallery, Las Vegas artist Kim Johnson revisits this inquisitive tradition through mixed-media works that serve as visual metaphors for our interactions with the environments in which we move. Driven by a fascination with the known and unknown, she unites organic materials and found objects to create arrangements in “windows” or “cabinets” that emanate a sense of awe and wonder.
Small animal skulls, branches, textiles and rusted objects are brought together to play out the narratives of how we physically and emotionally relate to the environment. Set within or affixed to worn wood panels that are sanded, planed and pieced together, they jut, mingle, pierce, hang and interconnect, becoming peculiar little environments. Canvases ooze. Organic shapes emerge. Pristine innards reveal themselves. Combinations of faux fur, burlap, branches and metal seem ritualistic. Trapped, crowded, free or organized, the arrangements are familiar and unfamiliar, an alien world resembling our own. Paintings of surrealist dripping eyes peer out of the wall works. On large canvases they loom.
Whether tapping into the urban world where Johnson works as an artist or the natural landscape where she hikes and runs for endurance training, the objects anchored by their wood backdrops interact as emulations of instinctive and ritual behaviors. Like the cabinets of curiosity of yore, they invite us to consider, identify, cringe and embrace, all while reconnecting with the mundane and monumental in the world around us.
Wunder Kammer Through July 17; Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m., Winchester Cultural Center, 702-455-7340.