Curators of Cool

By Queensland Museum Network

Queensland Museum Network

'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 CourtQueensland Museum Network

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: Curators of Cool (2012)Original Source: Milkman Productions

Sibella Court -

Side View: Case 2 "Air" (2013) by Sibella CourtQueensland Museum Network

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.

Case 2: "Air"Queensland Museum Network


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

Detail: Case 2 "Air"Queensland Museum Network

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.

Detail: Case 2 "Air"Queensland Museum Network

Detail: Case 2 "Air"Queensland Museum Network

Cabinet 1: "Sea"Queensland Museum Network


Detail: Case 1 "Sea"Queensland Museum Network

Detail: Case 1 "Sea"Queensland Museum Network

Detail: Case 1 "Sea"Queensland Museum Network

Benjamin Law (2014)Queensland Museum Network

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.

h18442 Hammond multiplex typewriter 001 (1915) by The Hammond Typewriter Co Ltd (estab. 1880, closed 1970s)Queensland Museum Network

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.”

Curators of Cool - Episode #2Queensland Museum Network

Benjamin Law -

Case 1: "Type"Queensland Museum Network

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.

Case 2: "Talk"Queensland Museum Network

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 (2014)Queensland Museum Network

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.

Paul Owen - Site 02Queensland Museum Network

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 larvae can help to eradicate pests.  

Photo 4 - Paul OwenQueensland Museum Network


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 the 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.

Curators of Cool - Episode #3Queensland Museum Network

Paul Owen -

A Parasitic Tachinid Fly by Geoff ThompsonQueensland Museum Network

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

A Jewel ButterflyQueensland Museum Network

Carl LindgrenQueensland Museum Network

Carl Lindgren

I make media. Magazines and websites inspired by pop culture with a conscience.I have always believed in the need for more positive media in our communities and that is what I have spent the past 20 years making. I was born in Papua New Guinea and had an amazing childhood exposed to the tribes, oceans, rainforests and wildlife. All these pieces were part of my everyday including the Cuscus that would sleep in my bed. These objects inspire me to make change. As long as I have nature I am OK... and I think that is cool. Nature is imaginative by necessity and has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. The discipline of Biomimicry studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. This is cool so we should look after nature. My parents taught me about caring for and respecting nature and I think this is cool.

Curators of Cool Project by the Queensland Museum. Carl Lindgren's EpisodeQueensland Museum Network

Carl Lindgren -

Paradisaea raggiana intermediaQueensland Museum Network

Mask - Malagan (Vanis Type)Queensland Museum Network

Nick SouthgateQueensland Museum Network

Nick Southgate

People are cool when they act in a timely and effortless fashion.Timely means being both in the moment and of the 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 that transformative power of cool. 

Prisoner of War Chair (detail)Queensland Museum Network

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 as a chair. Yet, despite the deprivations 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.

Prisoner of War ChairQueensland Museum Network

View CameraQueensland Museum Network

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.

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.
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