More chipmunk than Chimera

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On the face of it, an exhibition entitled ‘Chimera’ sounds intensely exciting, and I approached the Museum of the History of Science thrilling at the prospect of huge sculptures of impossible hybrids woven around the museum’s more conventional exhibits. However, I was to be disappointed – Angela Cockayne’s contemporary response to the 17th century Tradescant collection is small and dismal, and even worse, very easily overlooked.{nomultithumb}

The Tradescant collection itself is very impressive, consisting of a sample of the artefacts the adventurer and botanist donated to the Ashmolean after his extensive travels. It consists of a number of oriental statues, contorted skulls, jade beads and other curiosities, that, while momentarily diverting, are not sufficiently fascinating to incite a special trip to the museum.

 

Interspersed with these objects are Cockayne’s offerings, which consist of wax sculptures a few inches high with naturally-occurring items attached, such as duckbills or lobster claws. Often the wax is moulded into a birdlike shape, and they are supported on small wire legs. They have titles like ‘squidbills’ and ‘negotiators’, but in general are too small to be of any real interest or significance.

Her larger efforts are much more pleasing; in particular a set of moulded whale teeth dressed in white lace entitled Ahab’s Brides that are laid out on the bare boards of the gallery. My personal favourite, Gnawpecker, a beaver-chewed log with a green woodpecker’s wings attached, enlivens a case full of small pocket sundials.

 In essence, Cockayne’s ideas are fresh and original, but her work is not of sufficient size to make an impact on the mundane setting of a gallery dominated by brass instruments and rulers, and the exhibition as a whole is not large or varied enough to warrant any particular excitement.

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