A ship in a bottle is a subset of the mechanical puzzle known as “impossible bottles”, which have been around since the 3rd century BC. The “ship in a bottle” has become one of the few forms of folk art that pre-date the modern gallery system that have not been included in historical surveys of kitch, “art brut”, or “folk art”. This may be due to its primary function as magic trick or visual puzzle, rather than a decorative art object– even though it is a puzzle of perception rather than a puzzle that exists in order for the viewer to physically “solve” it.
For these reasons the “ship in a bottle” is an odd duck of an art object, one that shares characteristics with many different traditional forms of craft and fine art, but ultimately has a function that places it outside the traditional location of art– that of the game or magic trick. An exhibition of interpretations of such “impossible bottles” has the potential to be another magic trick, that of localizing a shifty and slippery place, putting a round hole in a square peg.