Described by John Waters as “a sick orchid who seems like the perfect man”, Viktor Wynd is an artist, author, lecturer and the proprietor of The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History in London’s East End. This, his latest book, not only provides a catalogue of his museum’s contents, but acts as a portal through which the reader may pass into another world, the world inside Viktor Wynd’s head: a magpie’s nest of the bizarre and the absurd. Featuring beautiful photography by Oskar Proctor and illustrations by Theatre of Dolls, The Unnatural History Museum unfurls as an inventory of the myriad items found in his museum, each with its own unique history and story of how it came to be there, enacted before us through Wynd’s vivid prose. Interestingly, it is also a tender love letter to a Hackney that existed prior to gentrification.
Obvious from the outset is Wynd’s deftness as a storyteller, and his passion for this bizarre menagerie of items, the accumulation of which he claims is a “testament to a misspent youth”. From basilisks, strange herbaria, two-headed lambs, cyclops’ skulls, mermaids and mummified fairies, to extinct bird feathers, penises, dandies, satyrs, spirit baskets and uncanny toys, his catalogue reads like an obscure travelogue of the fantastique. Carefully documenting the places he has visited around the world acquiring these items, and sharing the stories of how they came into his possession, Wynd also references the places within his own imagination where he is guided while perusing the contents of his collection, interweaving stories and histories to paint the most vivid dreamscapes.
The book is also a memoir charting the beginning of Wynd’s life-long interest in collecting the curious, the lesser seen, the misunderstood, the downright unsettling. Throughout, he advocates looking at the world with childlike wonder, from examining the details of a butterfly wing, to admiring and treasuring a simian-fish hybrid because it is beautiful to you, the beholder. He frequently laments bygone ways of understanding the world, noting “when magic and superstition ruled the world, [these objects] were seen as something more than mere scientific anomalies — they were considered portents, communications from the Other World”.
The Unnatural History Museum is a window into an unknown, fascinating world, and an invitation to be disarmed and seduced by the strange, the forbidden, the unseen, and the inexplicable.
Theatre of Dolls