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Cabinet of curiosity

Grenfell Campus professor's death and decay collection to close

Research

By Melanie Callahan

An artist and a professor of visual arts at Grenfell Campus is leaving Newfoundland and Labrador and, with that, closing the Lyric Cranium.

The Lyric Cranium is part studio, part lab, part museum and part Wunderkammer—a cabinet of curiosity—and is all representative of  the evolving work of David Morrish. It’s an eclectic collection of artifacts, displays, photographs, sculptures and still lifes.

Age and decay

The overriding theme of the collection is death, age, past lives and decay. A visitor can expect to see mummified animals, post-mortem baby pictures, taxidermy and skulls and bones. There are collections of aged spoons, dozens of tiny broken dolls, historical hair jewelry and pieces representing how the dead are memorialized in different cultures. The walls are adorned with hand-made wallpaper displaying coffins and words from a last will and testament.

“There is almost too much to absorb in one visit; the walls and floors are almost completely covered. That is no accident,” said Mr. Morrish. “Part of it is creating the space to initiate dialogues between things. Why are things placed next to each other that don’t quite fit? You have to make sense of why that’s there and what happens to things when you see them in these contexts.”

The installation presents the kinds of things that Mr. Morrish has gathered and collected over his lifetime. Some pieces he’s had since childhood, but his “serious” collecting began when he was a grad student in the ’80s. The bulk of it was acquired in the last few years.

“I’ve always liked the idea of taking something ordinary, and through huge numbers, transform it.” –David Morrish

Another striking thing about the collection is how common, ordinary items become significant and have impact through the accumulation of large numbers. The magnitude of the art is part of the appeal, Mr. Morrish says.

“What we see more and more in modern art is the repetition of form, the quantity, the huge amount. I’ve always liked the idea of taking something ordinary, and through huge numbers, transform it.”

Mr. Morrish only recently decided to invite visitors to see the Lyric Cranium. He never intended to open the collection to the general public, but decided to share it with people who are curious or interested in similar things.

“It is different for everyone,” he said.”It is an immersive still life, which can be used as a jumping-off point so I can make other work. It is also a place for me to see and appreciate my collections. I’ve always had these pieces at home in bits and pieces. It is so nice to have the ability to absorb it as an entire collection.”

Shipping out

Now that Mr. Morrish is leaving the province, he’ll have to prepare everything for transport. One option will be to make shadow boxes that will represent abbreviated versions of the collection.

“Age, decay, memory and archive are basically what my work has been about for over 30 years. I suspect that will continue.”

The Lyric Cranium will close by the first week of August. Private visits can be arranged between July 21-Aug. 7.


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