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Vitrine with exhibition display

A Cabinet of Serendipities

Written by Centre for Fashion Curation
Published date 20 April 2020
Display of wooden bow, picture and open book against purple background  in display cabinet

A Cabinet of Serendipities, Jenna Rossi-Camus

This display is comprised of objects collected as aides to my practice-based doctoral research in fashion curation. The practical element of my thesis was a proposal for a site-responsive exhibition about fashion and graphic satire devised for Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s neo-gothic villa in Twickenham. Horace Walpole (1717-1797), man of letters, was also an eminent collector of art and antiquities and he designed Strawberry Hill as a thematically curated cabinet of curiosities, to which he regularly welcomed members of the public. Walpole also coined the term “serendipity” to refer to discoveries made by “accidents and sagacity, of things [which one] was not in quest of” (HW Corres, 28 Jan. 1754). Serendipity has subsequently been acknowledged as a faculty to which all scholars and collectors are in debt (Lewis, 1952, p. 216). More than a potentially mystical phenomenon, serendipity has been further interrogated as the outcome of the “interaction of chance with the prepared mind” (Merton & Barber, 2004, p. 45).

Glass cabinet labelled Fashion Space Gallery with small exhibition artefacts

All of the objects displayed here owe their presence in my collection to serendipity, and the design of this micro-exhibition has been inspired by Strawberry Hill’s decorative, architectural and taxonomic attributes. The exhibition design elements are all 21st century objects masquerading as fixtures in a neo-gothic Wunderkammer.  Each object has been assigned to one of three themes, and this booklet offers museum-style captions while also echoing Horace Walpole’s self-published guide to his collections at Strawberry Hill. Like Walpole’s Description of the Villa (1774), this guide provides provenance information as well as personal narratives.

Display of wooden bow, picture and open book against purple background  in display cabinet

The display and guide are experimental and prototypical manifestations of the exhibition Fashion & Folly: in miniature, in print and as a next step in the proposal process. My thesis explored the ways and means of proposing exhibitions as a creative curatorial practice, and this display addresses new aspects of the research methodologies. It is the first public exhibition of Fashion & Folly, and it provides an opportunity for visitors to engage with aspects of curatorial practice that are rarely made visible when exhibitions are realised.

Display of exhibition in vitrine

Jenna Rossi-Camus, PhD

September 2019

Lewis, W. S., 1952. A Collector's Progress. London: Constable & Co. Ltd.

Merton, R. K. & Barber, E., 2004. The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

This booklet accompanies the exhibition of A Cabinet of Serendipities in the Fashion Space Gallery / Centre for Fashion Curation vitrine at UAL London College of Fashion. It has been published in a limited edition of 250, and digital copies of the booklet are available upon request to: jmrossi@fashion.arts.ac.uk.

The exhibition has been realised with the financial, logistical, moral and serendipitous support of the Fashion Space Gallery, the Centre for Fashion Curation, The Lewis Walpole Library, NIDA Art Colony, Strawberry Hill House and Garden, UAL Artscom, Profs. Judith Clark, and Agnès Rocamora, Profs. Caroline Evans and Alistair O’Neill, my family, friends, teachers and colleagues especially my husband RM Sánchez-Camus. I also extend supernatural thanks James Laver, Bernard Rudofsky, Diana Vreeland, Richard Martin and Horace Walpole.

Text, design and all images (unless otherwise specified):

© Jenna Rossi-Camus, 2019