A corporeal directory to another world.
In my travels about the hypertext kingdom, I happened upon a rare portal to a
so-called ‘Zymoglyphic’ world—islands of Earth ‘formed by the upwelling of
molten magma from the underworld.’
I had not ever known of the creatures of this land! We talk of museums, libraries,
cataloging and labeling here, do we not? Therefore, I awkwardly flailed out in my typical
shock-curiosity to Jim Stewart—the Museum’s curator.
kicks: I recently discovered an interesting local museum a few blocks from
my neighborhood after being unaware of it for five years. I drove behind it all
the time and would have immediately spotted it had I driven on the other,
parallel street. It took me five years to drive on that other, parallel street.
So what are your visitors like? Unsuspecting tourists? Neighbors that happen to
drive by? Pilgrims?
jim: All of the above. Probably the majority of visitors are tourists and
locals looking for “offbeat” things to see and do. Some are specifically
interested in personal museums, natural history, curiosity cabinets, or a
rust-and-dust aesthetic. I do get a fair share of people just passing by as
well and have met a lot of neighbors this way.
kicks: So, did you have any idea in mind of who you were looking for when
you started the museum or were you just glad to have anyone and everyone?
jim: At first I was just doing it for myself, then when I went public I was
happy to have anyone appreciate it. Nowadays (after 2000 visitors) I’m mostly
looking for the people interested in a more in-depth connection with the museum.
kicks: I love the guide you have, advice for curating your own museum. In a
way, I took it as advice for the blog-hunting I do. You even have a section on
‘outreach’—I have a little group of online friends where we call this ‘find
the others’—the pejorative word here might be ‘self-promotion’—to what
degree do you engage in this kind of thing for the Zymoglyphic?
jim: Very little at his point. The blog has not seen an entry in years and
the twitter account is inactive. Events are announced on Facebook and I have a
mailing list that gets used 3 or 4 times a year. People who visit leave reviews
on review sites and photos on Instagram, and I am on a lot of “quirky things to
do in Portland” lists. The place is small and can’t really accommodate many
people. Also, I think the fact that this is a physical place and not just an
online presence puts it in a category that generates its own publicity.
kicks: Perhaps the museum is ‘complete’ and has no need of updates? Or is it
in constant flux—are you always cooking up new exhibits?
jim: The basic format seems pretty stable. I’m working on a lot of
different but related projects, such as a library and computer-generated
kicks: You also have this profound quote in the book: “Once the museum is
complete, it could become a private sanctuary for contemplation, since the
museum will be like being inside your own subconscious mind.” This reminds me of
the work at philosopher.life—where a fellow is cataloging his life and
correspondence in a huge singular oracular HTML file. So when someone visits,
are they able to absorb you through this portal—almost as if it is a stand-in
for you—or is it as mysterious to you as it is to them?
jim: Very hard to say exactly what other people get out of it. Many are
quite enthusiastic I think mostly they are finding something in themselves that
they had not been able to express in just that way. I know from personal
experience that it is possible to get a lot out of a work of art and not be able
to relate to the artist as a person.
kicks: Haha, I love the idea that someone could relate more to the
Zymoglyphic Mermaid than to you. Well—and you say on the website that you
like to give the visitors their space to peruse and not be badgered or guided
through. (Have I got that right?) Does it matter to you what the effect of the
museum would be on somebody?
jim: Yes, the museum is on the second floor and I just send people up when
they come in (even if they want a quick introduction). When they come back down
is when I engage them about their reactions (if they seem open to it) and answer
questions. I’m definitely interested in what their take on it is, and what it
means to them. I keep track on the web site of all the reviews, blog mentions,
etc. It’s especially meaningful if someone gets inspired to do something
kicks: Having lived in towns with small museums, junk art houses, religious
shrines—you have given your city and the world a great gift.