The Keeper

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Why do people collect? What is the magic of stamps (philately) and coins (numismatics)? What was the drive behind Nabokov's great taxonomic project of classifying butterfly genitalia? Supposedly it was to distinguish between the seemingly indistinguishable. What drove Vanda Vieira-Schmidt to produce her "World Rescue Project" or Weltrettungsprojeckt composed of 500,000 drawings depicting "demonic messages that had been sent to earth with Uranium and electrocution devices." The Keeper, the exhibition which is currently completing a run at The New Museum is partially the handiwork of Massimiliano Giorni, the curator of Venice Biennale's 2013 The Encyclopedia Palace. In that exhibition a piece of outsider art by Marino Auriti provided the inspiration for a show that deal with information itself. The Keeper, which sounds a little like the title of a movie (say The Exorcist) purportedly

"tells the stories of individuals through the objects they chose to safeguard, exposing the diverse motivations that inspired them to endow both great and mundane things with exceptional significance."

But the mind of the collector itself is what is being collected here and the impulse turns out to be a little like Noah's Ark, to the extent that the gathering of artifacts is a bulwark against an imagined or impending oblivion. Sadness and loss together with the notion of reconstitution are characteristics of this calling. Collecting is also a form of control. John Fowles wrote a novel called The Collector, which was made into a William Wyler film. In that instance the title character (Terence Stamp) stalks and prays on his beautiful victim who he eventually imprisons (like Nabokov he also collects butterflies). Here is what Nabokov himself wrote about the collecting impulse in his poem, "On Discovering a Butterfly:

"I found it and I named it, being versed/in taxonomic Latin; thus became/godfather to an insect and its first/describer--and I want no other fame."

Luckily for us Nabokov's humility turned out to be disingenuous.

"World Rescue Project" by Vanda Vieira-Schmidt

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}