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Sighting the Past:
Four contemporary jewellers respond to the Macleay Museum collections

Curators: Julian Holland (Macleay Museum) and Lyndel Wischer (JMGA)

December 2005 to May 2006
Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney

My interest in the Macleay collection began on my first visit to Australia in 1993, six years before moving to Sydney from the US. I was delighted, therefore, to be invited with three other contemporary jewellers here in Sydney to create a body of work influenced by the museum. My work has long reflected the visual language of natural history museum display, having been greatly impressed as a child by the collection of the Peabody Museum at Yale University in New Haven, CT. It was in this context that I created the work for the Sighting the Past exhibition.

The pieces were made with direct correlation to, among other things, the Macleay's specimen display jars, microscope slides, historic scientific apparatus and insect cases. Included in several pieces were actual specimens of Extatosoma tiaratum, or the Macleay's Spectre stick insect, an indiginous insect which I have been breeding in captivity at home for over three years. As the museum's founder, Alexander Macleay, identified this species of insect himself, it seemed another sign of the personal relevance of this project.

“The physical act of making is the most important part of the process for me. I try to keep from having a view of the finished product, which leaves open the chance that it will lead way beyond where an original vision might have brought me. Often I’ll begin by choosing an object that really thrills me. It may not end up as the centrepiece of what I make but it is something that inspires me to launch; then I’ll start to marry it with other materials and just go from there. The piece builds intuitively, until it feels complete. The trick is getting so many different elements to look like they were meant to be together. That integration is the key to my work.

“ I’ve always had a fascination with Victorian-era natural history museums. These kinds of museums are institutions of science and history, using artistic means to help to present their collections, from how things are mounted to using careful calligraphy for labels, so they have an aesthetic appeal to them. I’m coming in from exactly the other end; I am in the artistic realm, but using history and science as my visual language. So really to me there is a common ground, an overlap, between what I’m doing and what a natural history museum like the Macleay is doing. We’re meeting halfway.

“I make objects that are very detailed and layered, often with elements that open or move to reveal secret chambers inside, which hopefully reward the attention that is put into viewing them. As attention spans are shrinking in proportion to the ballooning of information in our culture, my aim is to slow the works a bit, and allow the process of examination and discovery to bear fruit.”

– K. Lo Bue

Warm thanks go out to curators Margaret Humphrey for her patience and guidance in specimen preparation and photography, Stuart Norrington for taxidermy assistance, and especially to Julian Holland for his encyclopedic knowledge, generous spirit and joie de vivre.

Sighting the Past: Four contemporary jewellers respond to the Macleay Museum collections
was mounted by the Macleay Museum in conjunction with the Jewellers & Metalsmiths Group of Australia NSW.

Artists: Diane Appleby • Keith Lo Bue • Susanna Strati • Alice Whish

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