Stephen Ellcock is neither a curator nor an artist, but obviously has that delicate sensitivity towards art that is a gift. Even more valuable is that he makes it possible for many people to be impressed by art and to find or rediscover it in an easy way in their everyday life.
If you were lucky enough to get to his Facebook page or Insagram profile, then, like hundreds of thousands of others who follow him, you are familiar with the pleasure of the contact with the images he discovers and shares almost daily. Stephen Ellcock is neither a curator nor an artist, but obviously has that delicate sensitivity towards art that is a gift. Even more valuable is that he makes it possible for many people to be impressed by art and to find or rediscover it in an easy way in their everyday life.
Would you, please, introduce yourself with few words?
I am a London-based online collector and choreographer of images, writer and researcher and former professional musician and bookseller (among other things). Nowadays I spend most of my time creating an ever - expanding, virtual museum on Facebook and Instagram.
What is your attitude towards virtual museums in general?
The digital age provides us with the opportunity to create the ultimate Imaginary Museum or Wunderkammer / Cabinet of Curiosities containing every conceivable work of art and text that has ever been created and written, together with the ability to view and arrange these creations into every possible combination.. a multiverse of infinite choice.
However, any attempt to navigate this unimaginably vast labyrinth without any sense of direction or without filters and roadmaps could conceivably lead to bewilderment, disillusionment and even madness.
Odilon Redon , The Crying Spider, 1881
How did you come up with the idea to create a virtual museum?
I was at a fairly low point in my life – homeless , dealing with drink and drug related problems , recovering from a serious , debilitating illness – and friends coerced and bribed me into signing up to Facebook, even though I didn’t even own a mobile phone , let alone a PC or a laptop at the time. At first I found it incredibly mundane and tedious but gradually, as I connected with increasing numbers of interesting people , I was seduced and soon found myself spending a lot of time and money in internet cafes.
After a year or so of maintaining a fairly low profile , I began to see the huge potential for exploiting Facebook as a unique powerful visual forum and very few people I encountered were using it in that way . Once I started posting images and realised that I could compile thematic albums containing as 1000 plus images, there was no stopping me and, encouraged by the response, it has snowballed from there until it has now well and truly hijacked my life.
What is its purpose?
To do my very best to bring Heaven down to Earth .
Karl Friedrich Schinkel
A Painting of a Hand, Hastakara Yantra, Tantric painting from Rajasthan, 19th century
Where do you dig in for searching and collecting your archive?
Do you shoot your works in high quality or using other methods?
I spend every available hour trawling and rummaging around in the furthest , murkiest reaches of the internet searching for startling, idiosyncratic , unique or appropriate images . I discover images from many , many different sources worldwide , from the most famous and obvious museums , libraries and academic and scientific institutions to Tumblr, Pinterest , Flickr ,blogs etc.
Even though I possess a vast personal library of illustrated books and visual material , I don’t have access to a scanner or a decent camera and so , for the time being at least, everything I post is uploaded directly from the internet.
What is the most surprising, the most difficult to discover and the most distant back in time work of art that you have found for your archive?
I have discovered hundreds of images and artefacts , many of them astonishingly sophisticated, complex and beautiful , dating back tens of thousands of years to the earliest days of humankind , of which my favourite is possibly what has been described as the oldest surviving stone mask in theworld from the collection of the Musée de la Bible et de la Terre Sainte, Paris (see attached image).
Finding images of the art of Africa , central and southern America and central and south Asia , outside of the collections of the major European and American museums , still seems to be quite difficult , for me as a non-expert at least , There is so much to discover and learn from those cultures so this can be very frustrating.
This stone mask from the pre-ceramic neolithic period dates to 7000 BCE and is one of the oldest surviving masks in the world
Utagawa Kunisada, Japan, 1786 - 1865
Tell us some interesting story from the search process?
A significant and startling majority of objects, marks and works of art created by human hands in every medium and from every era, possess psychic associations that have universal and timeless resonance..
How do you choose the topics for your posts?
I think it is often the other way around and the topics choose me.
Although I do always follow a kind of grand , vastly ambitious, never-ending narrative arc (known only to myself!) and I will spend countless hours downloading selecting and , in particular, sequencing the images , I do also work spontaneously. Sometimes perfect, or obvious images will suggest themselves or will suddenly appear whilst I am looking for something else.
I do respond to the news and current events and there is an underlying political commentary in much of the material I post, that message and commentary is oblique and implied rather than overt and obvious.
How do you explain the interest in your social pages?
People respond to patterns and what I am doing on both Facebook and Instagram is at its essence , pattern making .
I would also like to think that people may be responding to the fact that by juxtaposing and assembling images in this way I am attempting to express concepts using that would take many thousands of pages of text to explain. I firmly believe that visual thoughts can carry meaning and awaken memories.
Barbara Regina Dietzsch (1706-1783), Blühende Königin der Nacht
Léon Spilliaert, The Bather, 1910
Who dig in your archive and why, in your opinion? Do you get interesting questions?
I am extremely proud of the fact that among my many thousands of friends and followers are people from every age group, background, cultural tradition and continent.
People do send me dozens of messages , requests and questions every single day and while I do receive my fair share of hate mail and the occasional death threat , the overwhelming majority are unfailingly polite and incredibly respectful.
Do you follow similar archives and which are the most interesting for you? What about real museums and galleries, which are your favourite?
I regularly visit hundreds of websites, Tumblr pages etc and so it seems invidious to single out a few among so many but, if pressed, I would say that my favourites would include - The Public Domain Review, Archive.org, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Internet Book Archive, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, nemfrog, Bibliodyssey, the British Library, Art Blart, Spencer Alley among countless others .
Apart from the obvious places , my favourite museums would definitely include the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, the Museum of Jurassic Technology , Los Angeles, the American Folk Art Museum, New York, and the John Soane Museum, London.
The Hydra, detail from Hercules and the Hydra by Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1537
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, centre panel, detail, c. 1503-04
And how do you imagine the future and the development of your "virtual corner"? Do you have plans to turn it to a real museum, for example?
I hope to continue pursuing the same path and doing what I am doing whether on Facebook or Instagram or whatever succeeds them , in the hope that the constellations of images I post and the intricate webs of association, return and recall I am attempting to spin will spark the viewer’s memory, imagination, and understanding and provide a haven from a cultural and political landscape increasingly dominated by negativity, trivia and meaningless cacophony.
Apart from the occasional talk, workshop, curated exhibition, book, calendar or stationery item , I am more than happy to maintain my relative anonymity and confine my activities to the virtual world. I certainly have no intention of creating a real museum, although if there happens to be a a particularly enlightened billionaire out there blessed with infinite patience and bottomless pockets, then I would be more than happy to talk!
Gold Thread Fukasa Fish, Japan early 19th Century
Andreas Cellarius, detail from Scenographia Systematis Copernicani Harmonia Macrocosmica