We arrived at 696 Weihai Lu, Building 11, Room #409, not too sure what to expect. We had heard some rumblings about a Chinese medicine cabinet and a collection of “ordinary things.” What we discovered was a marvelous packrat’s paradise. All sorts of knickknacks and obscure treasures were strewn around the workspace. Off to the side stood the magnificent Cabinet of Curiosities, beckoning one to open its secretive drawers.
We paid heed and were soon like little children on Christmas morning, tugging on each handle with such anticipation that you would have thought we were about to get that present we always wanted. When the drawers were all laid bare we had gazed upon a collection of strange, intriguing and downright hilarious possessions.
For example, take the drawer with the Darlie toothpaste, White Rabbit candy and Guangming ice cream box or the one with the Chinese character for destroy (拆) accompanied by a half-knocked down flat and the ubiquitous red, white and blue construction tarp. While this was someone else’s collection, we soon realized that with each new piece, we too were filled with nostalgia and recollections of our China experience.
Our favorite: that would have to be the cutup list of auspicious phone numbers paired with cell phone recharge cards. We will never look at those kiosks and their squawking vendors the same again.
This most unusual and seriously curious collection was created by Shanghai-resident artist Christina Shmigel and is, unfortunately (insert big frowny face), now on its way to the U.S. for a January show.
Five years in the making, the Cabinet of Curiosities is an attempt to preserve and catalogue (in an entirely idiosyncratic way) the experience of coming to know a culture through its material possessions.
At first, Christina started depositing pieces of this and that into random drawers without much thought. She soon found the cabinet was becoming a sort of “memory palace” where she would keep items of special significance or importance. As the project developed some drawers took on a theme while others just figured out their own path as new items arrived.
As longtime China residents ourselves it makes us wish we too had been collecting the many things that ended up in our pockets and somehow accompanied us home.
Is it too late to get it going? We don’t think so. First piece in the collection, the Qingdao beer cap we found this morning, a survivor of last night’s Logo last hurrah. What’s yours?