Museum of Natural Mystery

Posted by Gemma on the 26th of July, 2011

The Museum of Natural Mystery opened roughly three months ago, quietly, in suburban North Perth. The Museum's ethos is simple - to present and support good creative work - but beyond that, it's an elegant, kinetic manifesto in Doing it Yourself.

The Museum is, on a basic level, a gallery in a garage. It's also a curated ARI that, due to its nature, is autonomous from many of of the factors that affect the programming and management of an ARI. This autonomy, however, is by no means used megalomaniacally. It's run by Pat Miller and David Egan, who presented the second show, their own - Magical Signs: Exchange and Utopia - as an explanation of the Museum's principles and philosophies.

I have to be honest, I missed this exhibition. I'd left the country, so it wasn't due to laziness. I did read the catalogue through, which dealt with the appearance of strange structures in the Perth outer-suburban everyday and the weird mania of the Esperance woman who is building her own stonehenge (both good analogies). I did catch both the first and third exhibitions, the former being Jason Hansma's Gentle Into That Good Night and the latter Tom Freeman's 18th and 19th Century Prisoner Art, which opened the Friday just gone (July 22nd), and which is already over. Hansma's show used sparse (but not coldly so) material arrangements to step softly around the problem of language in the face of uncertainty; cones and spheres and silk and resin and heat treated metal barely contained a symbolic universe of necessarily incomprehensible beauty. This sounds vaguely derogatory, but I mean it well. Ambiguity is necessary when approaching the unknown.

Tom presented a series of four drawings and a table of models (or dioramas) made after an Oxford Museum encounter with a similar form made by an 18th century French Prisoner of the Crown from bone and bricolage. These seven models struck a great balance between skilled, meticulous delicacy and haphazard, fantastical chaos. Evidently handcrafted ceramic forms were supported by painted balsa and ply, decorated with glitter, tissue paper and paint. There's a lot in there: the hand of the maker and the inevitable passage of time, the necessity of making your own world from the things around you, the fragility of each of these worlds, contained within each other like wooden dolls.

I've used the word necessary and its derivatives a lot in these last paragraphs - I think it's a pretty relevant word in terms of what Pat and Dave are doing. The Museum presents one show a month, and it produces a catalogue alongside the work, so ideally they won't just disappear as things like this often do. Shows are only open for a single night, but they're rich and magic in a really practical way.

The next one will be in August sometime. Visit naturalmystery.org for more information.

(Images courtesy of Dave Egan and Pat Miller)

Magical SIgns: Exchange and Utopia. Image courtesy
Magical SIgns: Exchange and Utopia. Image courtesy