At the start of the fall semester, UNC Charlotte’s School of Architecture displayed 100 artifacts of student work. The exhibit encompassed everything from first-year students all the way up to the graduate level. On Jan. 7, the school unveiled a counterpart to this exhibition. Until Jan. 18, Storrs Gallery featured a wide array of models, drawings and other architectural artifacts, all created by the School of Architecture faculty.
During the opening reception, both Adam Justice, the director of galleries, and Greg Snyder, associate professor and curator of the event, spoke about the exhibition. They likened the event to a “kunstkabinett.” Kunstkabinett is a German word that translates to “cabinet of curiosities” and was used in the 16th century to refer to large collections of art, historical artifacts and other intriguing collections of objects. One of the most popular objects in these places was a narwhal horn, which was exhibited as a unicorn horn. In many ways, the exhibit on campus was like this faux-unicorn horn. Many of the works presented take fairly normal objects and elevated them to something extraordinary. Things like a ceramic bowl or a video of a subway train are presented in incredible ways and their basic ideas are exposed in a way that pushes the act of designing art and architecture. The result is a collection of fascinating items that blur the line between what makes something mundane and what makes something profound.
A “cabinet of curiosities” is also an adequate metaphor simply because of the variety of objects that were on display in Storrs Hall. I expected to find myself analyzing architectural drawings and diagrams, but instead I found myself equally captivated with linoleum prints from associate professor Jeff Balmer’s studies in Rome and a virtual reality map that shows changing demographics in Mecklenburg County. Every artifact on display provided a small window into the lives of individual faculty members and the many different ways they have chosen to explore the field of architecture over the years.
The objects on display were an important reminder that our professors and faculty at this school do not spend all their time grading papers and writing lesson plans. They are always working on different projects, writing books and participating in research conferences. The things that they spend time on are not meaningless and use the same foundational ideas and methods that they teach us in class.
As a follow up to 100 Artifacts from the students, this event showed a progression of ideas, a clear relationship between the things that we are taught and tested on and the manifestation of these things in everything from Master’s theses to actually working in the professional field. These ideas are not present just in architecture, but the exhibition on display is an exquisite testimony to the growth we can achieve as students and the rewards that await us if we are willing to put in the time and effort that our instructors did. I come back again to the mystical metaphor of the unicorn horn because of the power many of these objects hold and the way they may feel otherworldly or unattainable. We must remember that the curation of the unicorn horn began with the narwhal, a real animal with strange yet somewhat humble roots.