Invented by Renaissance men and admired by the surrealists, cabinets of curiosities brought together the exotic and otherness in artworks alongside apparently worthless objects: a shell beside a great painting, a stuffed animal next to a medallion, a scientific engraving beside an African fetish... Naturalia is a classic part of these cabinets, and Švankmajer, who had a cabinet of his own, created a curious fauna in his film Historia Naturae. The Brothers Quay met Švankmajer during the production of the documentary The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer: The Alchemist of Prague, directed by Keith Griffiths, for which they created a series of hypnotic animations, later brought together in the short film The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer. The Quays returned to the documentary genre two decades later in The Phantom Museum, offering their particular documentation of the important medical collection of Sir Henry Wellcome. In this cabinet-session, which includes a Bohemian ossuary (Kostnice), Starewitch’s characters (insects and other animals) emerge as real curiosities, on screen and off. Painlevé completes the session with his own fantastic view of nature. The entire “Metamorphosis” exhibition is designed as a great cabinet of curiosities that invites the viewer to reconsider the function and the value of art.
Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi (The frogs who wanted a king), L. Starewitch, 1922, 35 mm, silent, 22 min; Le vampire, Jean Painlevé, 1939-1945, 16 mm, 9 min; Historia Naturae (Suita), J. Švankmajer, 1967, 35 mm, 9 min; Kostnice (The ossuary), J. Švankmajer, 1970, 35 mm, 10 min; The Phantom Museum, Brothers Quay, 2003, 12 min; The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, Brothers Quay, 1984, video, 14 min.