Curators of Cool

Queensland Museum

'Curators of Cool' was an experiment in reinterpretation. For hundreds of years, museums around the world have been primarily concerned with the preservation and presentation of the natural and cultural history of the world. What if a museum's collection could be more than just this? What if a museum could tell us something about ourselves - today?  

Sibella Court
I was invited to choose one object for Curators of Cool, but upon seeing the extent of the Natural History departments of Queensland Museum, I decided I would choose one idea that has long fascinated me.... 'Cabinets of Curiosities' 

Sibella Court - http://www.thesocietyinc.com.au/

On Curiosity
Cabinets of Curiosities became particularly popular in the 1800s as seafaring types began traversing the globe & bringing back their unusual treasures, seen by civilised societies for the first time. Well-heeled & deep-pocketed amateur collectors began collating a mixture of natural specimens & other strange curiosities to display & show off to other like-minded types. They were often displayed in glass-topped or fronted cabinets that had easy access, as these collections were all about show & tell, touch & feel – an open arena for speculation & discussion.


Sibella's selections from the collection settled around two themes - "Air" & "Sea".

On Aesthetics
As collections grew these cabinets would often expand to encompass the entirety of a whole room. Curiosities would be displayed everywhere, from the more formal cabinets, to the ceiling, floor & wherever they fit. This was before science was science, and there was no categorisation other than the aesthetic & temperament of the keeper of the collection. There was a haphazard casualness to it all that I love. Although mine are behind glass, imagine them without, for you to pick up & marvel at each precious piece. I have chosen my specimens purely on aesthetic. They are a mix of sizes, shapes, colours & textures that raise my curiosity. They encapsulate a time when specimen collecting was a job for the adventurous, hardy types that traveled up mountains, across seas, through dense jungles in plinth hats armed with all the paraphernalia needed to capture & transport their prize specimens.


Benjamin Law
Every writer knows the coolest journalist in the world is Joan Didion. Didion was a member of the New Journalism vanguard, the pioneering set of writers that included people like Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson and Gay Talese. Together, they revolutionised how we read and write non-fiction. Without them, you wouldn’t have writers like Susan Orlean or Jon Ronson. In her essay anthology "The White Album", Didion detailed the changing face of America in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and included a list of all the things she would pack if she was hitting the road for an assignment.
To Carry
To Carry: mohair throw / typewriter / 2 legal pads and pens / files / house key. Didion added: “Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.”

Benjamin Law - http://benjamin-law.com/

On Change
Pre-internet, pre-laptop, pre-smartphone journalism was a different beast then. It’s insane to think that writing longform journalism – the kind of work I do now – warranted hauling around a typewriter that would’ve been several kilograms. In 2013, after a day on assignment, my routine is to open my Macbook Air, upload the MP3 interviews I’ve recorded on my Sony dictaphone and transcribe the notes from my Moleskine notepad. All up, my portable office weighs just over a kilogram. Still, I’m old enough to remember the gradual introductions of new technologies: the first dial-up modem; the first affordable computers; the first mobile phones that didn’t way a tonne.
On Technology
For a long time, I used to carry micro-cassette dictaphones that were about the size of two iPhones taped back to back. Journalists older than me will tell you bout manual typewriters, teletype machines and how, because dictaphones were either rare or cumbersome, shorthand was a necessity, not just a neat party trick. All the technology I use now—my MacBook Air, my iPhone—consolidates decades, even centuries, of technology that came before it: teletype machines, typewriters, notebooks, phones.That, in itself, is its own kind of cool.
Paul Owen
I work in an architectural studio where many of our ideas come from the ordinary things found around us. We think that beautiful work can be made from ordinary ideas and observations. In everyday life there are things that seem amazing – and things that seem ordinary. I wonder if sometimes we get them mixed up. When asked to explain the work of our architectural practice, I sometimes liken us to scientists. Our work can involve collecting ordinary data – words / photographs / mapping / sketching / numerical data.
On Suburbs
A few years ago it occurred to me that we were conducting a kind of research into the field we work in – the Australian suburbs. Many of our architectural ideas and values came from this research. From this notion comes the idea that it’s possible to make beautiful things from ordinary ideas. When visiting a museum, the work of an entomologist can be seen by looking at displays of pinned insects.  Some insects appear to be beautiful, and some appear to be ugly – but this information doesn’t reveal the whole story. Susan Wright is an entomologist at the Queensland Museum. Because of her research into hoverflies, she knows that they are important pollinators of plants – and in some species their lava can help to eradicate pests.  
To know the whole story of things is empowering and important – it represents authenticity. The things I’ve collected from the Queensland Museum collection shows the back-of-house work of an entomologist next to amazing imagery of the inspects they research. It shows the daily work of an entomologist next to amazing imagery of the insects they study. To find some of most amazing things imaginable, a museum entomologist undertakes countless ordinary tasks – and they can recognise beauty in unlikely places. Trusting in ordinary things and doing simple, honest work can lead to discovering something beautiful and amazing.

Paul Owen - http://owenarchitecture.com.au/

Hint: Click the thumbnail on the left to explore full size image (Zoom)

Carl Lindgren
I make media. Magazines and websitesinspired by pop culture with a conscience.I have always believed in the need formore positive media in our communitiesand that is what I have spent the past 20years making.I was born in Papua New Guinea and had an amazing childhood exposed to the tribes, oceans, rainforests and wildlife ofPNG. All these pieces were part of my everyday including the Cus cus that would sleep in my bed. These objects inspire meto make change. As long as I have nature Iam OK... and I think that is cool.Nature is imaginative by necessity andhas already solved many of the problemswe are grappling with. The discipline ofBiomimicry studies nature’s best ideasand then imitates these designs andprocesses to solve human problems. Thisis cool so we should look after nature.My parents taught me about caring forand respecting nature and I think this is cool.

Carl Lindgren - http://theweekendedition.com.au/

Nick Southgate
People are cool when they act in a timely and effortless fashion.Timely means being both in the moment and ofthe moment: doing the right thing at the righttime. Effortless can mean doing it with poise,elegance, grace, strength, skill, beauty, panache,saviour faire… we have many words for thattransformative power of cool. 
On Paradox
Paradoxically, effortlessness can involve great effort in both planning and execution. Precisely because cool is about being at our best it is rarely as easy as it looks. People have cool moments, objects don’t. However, certain objects capture our desire to be fully alive in the way that makes us cool. The human instinct to act with defiant grace is an expression of cool I’m fascinated with.I chose the POW (Prisoner Of War) chair for this reason. Anything you can sit on can function asa chair. Yet, despite the depravations of POW life on the Burma to Thailand Railway, someone chose to design and create this elegant chair.It turns sitting down into an effortlessly cool protest. For me it’s the match of any cool design classic.
On Capture
The growth of photography helped crystallise our sense of the cool moment. The sense we might capture cool moments as they happen has always spun a halo around equipment that lets us do so, from the earliest cameras to today’s smartphones. The power to capture cool imbuesthese cameras with a reflected sense of cool.
Queensland Museum Network
Credits: Story

Original concept: Ben Hamley

Sibella Court
Benjamin Law
Paul Owen
Carl Lindgren
Nick Southgate

Produced by: Ben Hamley

All rights reserved: Queensland Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.