Towards an anatomy of wonder

The Bizzarro Bazar web series at the Civic Museums
Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia

Wonder is a powerful magnifying glass for observing the reality that surrounds us, a magnet of attention, since ancient times considered to be the origin of research and knowledge. It challenges stigmas and overcomes all geographical, age and cultural barriers.
Today, more and more in Italy as well, professionals are using wonder as a tool to mark the scope of their interest, studying every corner of the beautiful, the surprising and the unusual. And their audience is constantly growing.

Wonder, then, as an approach, an incipit for communication that aims to go deeper than an emotional response and become a tool of in-depth research and study that can stir the soul, pose questions, and place us in front of a mirror as human beings, that is, as animals.

Wonder also as the possibility to get closer to that which is different, imperfect, to suffering, that is to say, to the fragility that is a fundamental condition of the human being, too often rejected, pushed away. The repression of pain is a characteristic feature of our culture that prevents a critical approach to it, a public discussion about it, not allowing us to expose and investigate its causes, and then to find, even when possible, the solution, by breaking down the wall of secrecy and shame.

There are those who dare to do so, finding bold, refined, humorous and irreverent languages with the intention to propose – in the most literal sense of the term “to put before our eyes” – the themes in question, bringing them closer to our contemporary experience. These experimenters include Ivan Cenzi, creator of the web series Bizzarro Bazar, an explorer of the uncanny and collector of curiosities, since 2009 author of the blog Bizzarro Bazar that focuses on everything that is “uncanny, macabre, strange and wonderful”.

Ivan Cenzi, autore e conduttore della serie web Bizzarro Bazar
Ivan Cenzi, author and host of the web serie Bizzarro Bazar

The collaboration of the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia with Ivan Cenzi came about as part of #IspirazioneMuseo, a communication project aimed at dialoguing with the community of creatives who are rethinking museum content in their professions. The underlying objective of the project is to promote the value and originality of the Civic Museums, a network of museums that present themselves as Museums of Wonders, a source of inspiration and a kaleidoscope of beautiful things, preserved in centuries-old and contemporary collections in which the history of the city and its future are renewed and recomposed.

For the Civic Museums, our collaboration with Ivan Cenzi offers a unique opportunity for dialogue with an author who is recognised as one of the most authoritative in Italy in these areas. Author of several publications, including The Eternal Vigil on the Catacombs of Palermo, De Profundis on the Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples, and The Petrifier on the Paolo Gorini Anatomical Collection in Lodi, as well as a series of guides to the most unusual destinations in the European capitals, Cenzi is a lecturer at the University of Padua for the master’s in Death Studies and the degree course in Psychology of End-of-Life Relationships.

In his research, Cenzi sifts through the extreme fringes of culture and those border territories that often frighten us or make us feel uncomfortable; he confronts the unusual, the disturbing, the obscene and the liminal without the slightest concession to the morbid, exploring their complexity and fertile ideas through the interdisciplinary key of wonder.

Since 2019 Cenzi has also been the author and host of the popular web series Bizzarro Bazar, which takes a meticulous and in-depth look at historical and scientific curiosities with a compelling and humorous tone; a sophisticated visual system with live action parts created in exceptional contexts and embellished with animation segments that are capable of engaging, entertaining, and diluting even the darkest moods.

Ivan Cenzi all'interno delle collezioni zoologiche dei Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia
Ivan Cenzi inside the zoologcal collections of the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

The second season of the web series is produced in collaboration with the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia and introduces the museum as an ideal place for storytelling. “Since the days of the wunderkammer, after all, museums have always aspired to be the theatre or the mirror of the world”, Ivan Cenzi states. “For me, a museum is an indispensable device of reconnaissance. It’s a psychic spaceship that proceeds simultaneously in two directions – outward and inward. In a museum we can project ourselves outward from our reality, explore civilisations from remote times or exotic locations, discover perspectives that are different from our usual view of the world. But at the same time, the attentive observer knows that any exhibition is the result of precise narrative choices. And every museum narrative takes us inside our time; it’s an expression of our perspective, our culture”.

Ivan Cenzi all'interno della sala di Anatomia dei Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia
Ivan Cenzi inside the Anatomy hall of the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

A museum, then, as a place that, far from being neutral, embodies the responsibility of compelling people to discuss and posing crucial questions, dealing with even the most uncomfortable or awkward issues, to elicit thought on repressed topics. A museum as an instrument to generate culture and scientific knowledge, to elicit essential questions that concern a community. 

The second season of the web series Bizzarro Bazar consists of ten episodes filmed in Reggio Emilia inside Palazzo dei Musei, where the collections are much more than just a simple setting, but constitute the nexus between story and experience. The themes are burning, provocative: the naturalness of being animal and being human in front of which astonishment and the actions of man are often the only aspects to be deviated and distorted.
And so we talk about psychiatric care in a time when, under the shelter of the respectable image, havoc was perpetrated on the bodies of the most fragile. We talk about a monkey trained to such an extent as to perform important and vital public services, about the nocturnal habits of the men of ancient Rome that seem to be contemporary practices, about the fascination with death in early photography.

Each episode features curators of the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia who present a particularly curious and precious object from the collections, sometimes not yet known to the general public but deserving of a spotlight, for example the Cofano concatenato (“Triangular boxfish”), the botanical volume Erborario Naturale del Santo Spirito di Reggio, and the ritual mask of the Ticuna people of the Amazon are presented as family jewels, unique pieces from the collections of the Museums of Wonders, a civic museum network that reveals itself to be a treasure trove of colours, traditions, and stories of an entire community.

Georgia Cantoni

Georgia Cantoni

Head of communications, web area and new media at Reggio Emilia Civic Museums network. She is Curator of ethnographic collections at Reggio Emilia Civic Museum and Honorary Inspector of the Archaeological Superintendency for the area of Reggio Emilia. She is among the curators of "Pd’A - Pagine d’Archeologia", magazine of the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia, and Coordinator for the Reggio Emilia Civic Museums network for the project Google Arts & Culture.