The Nicholas Building is the home to a lot of artists from the late Vali Myers (1930-2003) to the very much alive Stephen Giblett. They have their studios and exhibition spaces in the rooms of the Nicholas Building. It is also the home of Collected Works bookstore, the best bookshop for quality literature in Melbourne, along with the Victorian Writers Centre and other interesting shops. It is a wonderful old building that is well worth a visit itself, the mail cute in the stairwell and the antique elevators speak of another era of city office life.
The very name “The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” evokes all kinds of ideas about this prime force. The idea of a strange private museum, like a UFO museum exhibiting in glass cabinets things as evidence for their belief. And it is plausible, after all the Nicholas Building houses the offices of many a small and little known organization. The display at the door changes each month – then it was an electrical circuit that counted itself, kinetic sculptures powered by electric motors including a small revolving Madonna in a crystal. Each of them has had some electrical content.
There is a fringe to the art world, where there is an on going dialogue about the very nature of art and the way it is displayed. The Duchamp code of deconstructing the art world with ordinary objects has expanded to boring the audience with its continuous repetition. In articles by Jean Baudrillard and so many other critics on contemporary art there is an element of despair about this direction. And I felt, having written a thesis about Duchamp’s readymades, that I was part of this unfortunate conspiracy. But there is another side of Duchamp, and consequently the post-Dada fringe, Duchamp’s strange optical machines, his inventions, and chess obsession. It is somewhere between eccentric, prank, madness and life; it is the part that never stopped having fun. This is the part of art that is truly critical of the boredom of contemporary art, the alternative, experimental part outside of the art galleries. It is the Dadaist element manifest not just in street art, or zines but also in the creations like Jim Hart’s “Museum of Electrical Philosophy”.
“The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” examines the aesthetics of the museum, the act of putting things on display under a title. It makes us think about the evolution of the wunderkammers and cabinets of curiosity towards contemporary exhibition practices (I recommend reading Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, 1986). I haven’t seen that many museums-as-art before; Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s “Museum of Soy Sauce Art” (1999) was complete with a fake history, curatorial notes, a kiosk, and ancient, modern and contemporary soy sauce art. Another was the “Museum of Modern Oddities” (2001) that had its own curators and guidebook to explain the exhibits, combining both visual and performing arts. “The Museum of Electrical Philosophy” may be the smallest of these museums but it is a continuous one.
And, of course, there is the Museum of Electrical Philosophy Blog where Jim Hart writes about the Museum and the Nicholas Building.
(This blog entry is an edited version of an entry published in my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne. My old blog has since been taken down for reasons beyond my control but I thought that this entry was worth republishing as the Museum of Electrical Philosophy is still operating.)