Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Collective Wisdom at Kala Gallery

Meta-museology proves that objects and memory still matter.



In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's 3-D film cameras scan cave-wall paintings in Chauvet, France, revealing works 20 to 30,000 years old and created by collaborators as much as 500 generations apart. Little is known about Stone Age culture, so Herzog wanders off course speculating about albino alligators — but it's a provocative film, nevertheless; you return to the light of Aristotelian reality awestruck by our long human journey (the blink of an eye in planetary terms, of course). The Chauvet cave will soon be closed to the public, replaced by a nearby replica for New Age pilgrims, so the film is now historical: you were there, then, virtually.

Systems of Collecting, curated by Lauren Davies, examines our urge to preserve and collect. Using works by Mari Andrews, Binh Danh, Matthew Troy Mullins, Jeanne O'Connor, and Ethan Turpin, and digital images of California Academy of Sciences specimens, it examines the "organizational systems ... used in libraries, archives, private collections, and natural history/anthropology museums ... [including] both the light and dark sides of the collecting impulse."

First light, then dark. Andrews' triangular wire-grid wall piece "Inventory" organizes its botanical specimens in compartments suggesting some new taxonomy; "Studio Installation," her studio replanted, is a naturalist's treasure trove spilling out over shelves and tabletops. O'Connor and Turpin scrutinize the 19th century's interest in science via two inventions: the museum, with its lifelike animals frozen in vitrines; and the 3-D stereoscope, forerunner of the View-Master. O'Connor's large color photos of England's Oxford University Museum are both impressively scenic ("View from the Mezzanine") and slightly absurd: Attenborough fans will remember the hilariously sinister "Bad Bird"; the taxidermied "Dodo Bird," accompanied by its skeleton and a painting, looks appropriately goofy: not, we hope, our avian predecessor. Turpin's installation, "Stereocollision: Global Curiosities," recreates a Victorian parlor with its requisite stereoscope and stereographs, but his faux stereographs (e.g., "Dry Hanger," "The Stereograph as Educator") deconstruct Victoriana's dark side — not ours, of course. Mullins' large watercolors depict the unseen innards of museums, with their cages, specimen drawers ("Entomology Archives," "Magnetic Meteorites"), and copious literature ("Stacks," "Prelinger Archive"). Danh continues his Burmese-Harp-style service to Asia's war dead with barely-visible silvery daguerreotypes depicting past horrors ( "Skulls...," "Killing Tree...," and pre-execution photos made by Khmer Rouge bureaucrats at Tuol Seng) and its eternal grace notes ("Iridescence of Life," "Wall Pattern at Angkor"). Panel discussion on Saturday, June 18, at 2 pm. Systems of Collecting runs through July 2 at Kala Gallery (2990 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). 510-841-7000 or