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Benjamin Davis Brockman
Josh Winkler and Rachel James opened Secret Knots Gallery
in the fall of 2011 in the front of their spacious Minneapolis apartment. Almost less a gallery than a storefront display, the intimate space consists of two small walls adjacent to a storefront window, which give way to their personal studio and living space. They recently launched their inaugural exhibition of artist's treasures: The Shelf Show
, which showcases collected natural objects ranging from mounted birds to an array of animal skulls and bones.
Artists themselves, Winkler and James have created a sanctuary dedicated to the tiny. Tiny, however, does not mean insignificant. As their namesake suggests, even the most easily overlooked objects in our surroundings possess an integral importance in the grand scheme of nature. Taken from the frontispiece of a 17th century study of magnetism by German scholar Athanasius Kircher, these “Secret Knots” imply the symbolic and practical connectedness of all things.
For their opening exhibition, Winkler and James curated a unique show, which used their storefront as a venue for their artist friends to display their personal collections of “curiosities.” Almost any artist is a pack rat, finding use for and significance in objects many would consider arcane. So when they asked twelve of their friends to take home a small shelf, live with it for two weeks and develop something worthy of display, it was a singular opportunity to put vast collections of trinkets into a meaningful context.
: Can you talk about the genesis of the idea for The Shelf Show
Josh Winkler: A studio space is a 3-dimensional sketchbook of ideas, images, collections, half-finished projects, and so on. Studio shelves become a space to arrange these things over extended periods. In my own studio, horizontal arrangements seem to grow and become more complicated over time. Having visited various artist studios and workspaces, we gathered that Secret Knots could provide a gallery setting to house interesting stuff that might not otherwise leave the studio.
We were also interested in the first early modern European museums that crammed objects of human and natural history, drawings, and ideas into tiny indoor spaces. These amazing spaces left one stimulated, excited, and exhausted. It's interesting how spaces designed for learning were often chaotic and overwhelming. The collection is a problem that will never be solved. It has no end, no solution. It is always something to look at. In my experience, studio shelf arrangements sacrifice logical connections for visual pleasures. They hold more humor than the artist's finished work and are fun to make. Given that we have a tiny gallery, we thought we might try to fill it up.
: Why do people, artists in particular, feel the need to collect things?
JW: It could be an attempt to make sense of one’s life, to hold memories of places, to show off, to comfort one’s self.
We want to do more shows that are visually stimulating, amusing, and humorous.
: Do artists imbue significance in objects or are they just likelier to perceive hidden meanings?
JW: I think collected objects are initially visual treats, rather than holders of hidden meaning. Over time they become increasingly packed with sentiment. Where they have been, how many times they have made the move across the country. Once they are lost, they become increasingly easy to forget. This could get complicated...
: Do the things artists come to possess inform their methods and ideas? Or vice versa?
JW: We collect what we like; it seems we make art about what we like or dislike. Possessions might literally become part of the work as with collage or assemblage. German Expressionists collected African masks and painted brightly colored thick wooden faced figures. The still life tradition? Portraits of collectors in their cabinets. Charles Wilson Peale. The taxidermist and wildlife painters. Big game hunters?
: Do you have plans to do more shows of this nature? What do you hope to achieve with The Secret Knots Gallery in the future?
JW: We want to do more shows that are visually stimulating, amusing, and humorous. We will see what happens. Something like this will grow as it sees fit. If we find the right artists, and have the space, we will keep at it.
The Shelf Show
features shelves by: Maneli Aygani, Laura Bigger, James Boyd Brent, Benjamin Brockman, Yousif Del Valle, Bryce C. Fairbanks, Peter Haakon Thompson, Jamie Kinroy. Donald Krumpos, Kit Leffler, Jenny Schmid, Robin Schwartzman, Ginny Sims, and Michael Sommers.
The Secret Knots Gallery
was founded by Josh Winkler and Rachel James in late 2011. Together, Rachel, Josh, and Kit Leffler select artists, orchestrate openings, and provide web content and documentation.
Volume 2, Issue 1
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