Tucked away on Mare Street in Hackney, is an inconspicuous little pub/museum-The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History. Behind its decorative grey front hides a vast collection of the wacky and weird. Step inside and be greeted by the gigantic stuffed tiger reclining on a nearby couch. For the reasonable fee of £5, you are guaranteed entry accompanied with a steaming cup of tea or coffee. Just try not to drop it as you make your way down the small steep steps in the middle of the pub. A collector’s paradise awaits you, but be warned-it is not for the faint hearted. The Guardian’s report on the museum, accompanied with pictures describes Wynd as ‘a collector with no apparent filter – taxidermy, human remains, giant beans and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys all form part of his collection’. The collection brings to the contemporary times the 19th century ‘Wunderkabinett’ (curiosity cabinet). Prior to my visit, I had googled its origins, and discovered that the owner of a cabinet as such used his collection to suggest his superiority and intellect over the natural and human world. It would include skeletons, insects, fossils, and bird’s nests, as well as works of art, scientific instruments, and ancient texts and artifacts.
My visit takes place (appropriately so) on a wet and windy Sunday. Upon entering, I am amazed at the countless oddities the small enclosure boasts, all tightly packed into one space. It gives one the urge to examine it all under close inspection, to reveal the full magnitude of the room’s mysteries. The room is dim and somewhat musty, giving it a real collector’s feel. As I wander around, I jump upon viewing some sinister looking china dolls, all lined up in a row behind glass. According to the helpful label, they are reportedly possessed and so I am glad for the barrier. I also blame my viewing of way many horror movies involving dolls. I move on, only to glimpse a two-headed lamb peering out from his enclosure, joined by a two-headed kitten. A mummified cat scrapes at a wall, its jaws twisted and anguished. I suddenly sense watchful eyes on me and turn around only to see it is the towering taxidermy exhibits, which stand in stark contrast to the writhing snakes and lizards, which you can hold for no extra fee. Tim, the man handling them is extremely helpful, supplying me with more information about the mysterious man behind the collection. Artist, author, lecturer and committee member of The London Institute of ‘Pataphysics’, Viktor Wynd attempts to portray a disjointed image of the world through his many marvels, all crammed into a small space. Indeed, unlike the orderly collections I am used to viewing, no attempt is made here at cataloging and arranging exhibits. The effect is weird and wonderful and I decide I like this collector’s resistance of convention.
As my visit is drawing to a close, I am tempted to try out a cocktail in The Last Tuesday Society bar but find it hard to choose from the fascinating assortment. I learn that each drink is based on the different curiosities and peculiarities of the venue’s decor. A collection in itself, inspired by the original collection. I chuckle at names like ‘Gone with the Wynd’ and the stomach turning ‘Dirty Gin Ant-Ini’. This contains an exotic blend of gin, absinthe, grapefruit bitters and edible queen leaf cutter ants as garnish. Yes, ants. Sitting besides a friendly lion, I enjoy my safe option of ‘Broken Heart Margherita’, which has achieved just the right balance of sweet and tangy. I leave the museum newly inspired to start seeking out as many weird and wonderful collections I can find, because it has become clear to me, (thanks to Viktor Wynd) that the abnormal makes life that much more interesting.
The lion who came to after work drinks