"island of Oddities: The Yüan Meng Ch'ien Collection"
The old fortune-teller leaned over her crystal ball to grin toothlessly at the terrified boy. “Tell us,” his pale-faced mother whispered, her blood-coloured nails digging into her son’s tiny arm. Outside, fire eaters swallowed flaming swords and spurted clouds of inferno. Strange costumed men smiled sinisterly, beckoning to little Yüan Meng Ch'ien with twisted limbs.
“I see… a cage. There is life, but it is trapped, trapped in a heavy cage… It tries, but it cannot escape.” Meng Ch'ien winced as his mother gasped and tightened her grip.
“I see a dog who becomes king. I see a doll who dances with broken limbs. I see a giant white bird, wings cruelly pinned. I see clouds of hungry butterflies of a hundred colours. I see flashing lights. I see fear. I see pain, and struggle, and longing as vast and deep as an abyss.”
The cold mirthless eyes of the fortune-teller lifted; the hint of a dry smile played on her chapped lips when she read the horror in her customer’s wide eyes. “But perhaps there is hope,” she cackled. “The secret to finding salvation lies in the strangest of treasures.”
40 years on, Yüan Meng Ch'ien, heir to his family’s vast opium fortune, is still haunted by his ill-fated sojourn to the spirit world. Terrified of losing his life and wealth to unnamed, unseen forces of evil, he surrounds himself with the most bizarre talismans, trinkets and thingamajigs. Curios, knick-knacks, gadgets and gizmos, specimens of flora and fauna both live and dead, crowd the rooms of his mansion and spill into the hallways and living room. People whispered behind their embroidered fans about this strange, hunched bachelor who spent his days buying the most freakish objects and endlessly rearranging them, as if into strategic battle formations.
Unfortunately, life had cruel plans for the eccentric tycoon. One day shy of his 50th birthday, Yüan met a painful and untimely end, crushed under an over-laden teakwood cabinet that finally gave up trying to hold up its burgeoning load of whatnots. With the eccentric’s death, the vast collection of relics was soon consumed by dust, locked up in its woebegone palace. With no remaining relative, none dared lay claim to the wealth that had been left behind as rumors of mystical possession and evil sorcery spread like wildfire. Every now and then, the lingering whispers of a tortured soul escaped the confines of the stone walls and seeped into the bordering houses, scaring the local residents who left in droves. A forgotten vestige of wealth and oddity, Yüan’s mansion lay abandoned, a looming island in a sea of surrounding rubble, protecting its secret from the ever-evolving outside world.
In July 2012, through a peculiar fluke of fate, the island6 art collective inherited Yüan Meng Ch'ien’s breath-taking, jaw-dropping collection of oddities. In a never-before-exhibited display, island6 presents “island of Oddities: The Yüan Meng Ch'ien Collection”. The electronic art collective showcases its signature fusion of traditional Chinese papercutting combined with state-of-the-art LEDs, as well as an eclectic collection of neon, sculpture, photography and video art. In the parade of curious animals, colorful characters, improbable situations, and perverse acrobatics, the most seemingly unrelated artistic motifs and metaphors are drawn together into a profound web of meaning.
On 13th of July, 1865, P.T. Barnum's famous American Museum, home to freak show stars Tom Thumb and the Siamese twins, burned to the ground. Antebellum New York may have been deprived of a spectacle, but 147 years on, Shanghailanders can marvel at island6's collection of oddities on 13th of July, 2012.