The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

REGNUM IMAGINARIUM: Realm of the Marvelous and Uncanny|Exhibition Concept

Exhibition Concept

Welcome to the realm of the marvelous and uncanny! You are about to embark on a journey through the labyrinth of human imagination.
When we humans encounter strange beings or out-of-the-ordinary phenomena (such as inexplicable light, sound, and movement), we are overcome with the sense of wonder and unease. Cognitive scientists say that this is because an instinctive understanding of biology or physics is pre-wired into our brain, so that anything that goes against this innate understanding of nature, triggers confusion in the mind. One way to escape this muddled state was to find an explanation in the existence of invisible forces --- spirits, demons, the divine… --- that may have caused the anomalies. However, the human brain also has its limits. In the words of Stanley Kubrick, “you cannot imagine the unimaginable.” The mental image of the unseen can only be shaped by reshuffling and merging elements that are already known. This process is similar to the mentality of “bricolage” as coined by cultural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.

 Part I: Biota of the Imaginary

Humans have conceived strange beings on the brink of nature by exaggerating, minimizing, multiplying, or reducing available parts, and by combining them in unnatural forms. Mermaids, dragons, angels, winged horses, and giants…. These composite creatures spawned from the bricolage of features found in the animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms of this planet. The fantastic creatures of the waters, heavens and earth come in many forms, displaying regional and cultural differences. But as we explore the biota of the imaginary, certain patterns emerge that may be common to humanity.

 Part II: Cultural History of the Imaginary

The second part of the exhibition will trace the cultural history of how marvels and wonders, the strange and the uncanny have been perceived, understood, and used as a source of artistic inspiration. The section on “Sounds of the brink” let visitors focus their attention on the auditory experience which stimulates imagination. “Sights of the marvelous and uncanny” and “Knowledge Systems” present how information about strange beings and events was collected and organized in the East and West as an integral part of natural history. Works by artists featured in the final section “Contemporary Creations” offer a view into the future of human imagination.

 List of objects on display