Collecting – notes from a tutorial – is it geeky to collect or art?

What does it mean to collect?

Every little boy’s dream collection.

What does the notion of collecting mean?

What does collecting mean for an artist? (Can we get away with it in the name of art?)

Olympic artist artist in residence Neville Gabie collected pictures of goal posts. These were images of goal posts from around the world, of all sorts of shapes, materials, sizes, places. All these photographs were captured with no people in the shot, and from the position of a penalty shooter. Gabie wanted to study the sculptural qualities of goalposts and how they become a way of understanding the city, landscape and community in which they were located. He found the structure of the goalpost fascinating, and particularly liked the way it framed the shot – acting as an outline yet still retaining the quality of being an object of interest in itself.

Goal Posts

When does collecting become hoarding? When does it become a mental disorder?

Why do artists collect?

  • for visual purposes
  • to organise and reflect upon
  • to illustrate a culture

An artist collects as a way to form ideas, develop a concept, and think of an approach.

Andy Warhol

This guy was the epitome of the geeky collector. When he was a child he collected 1960s Hollywood icon images which naturally fed his fascination with Hollywood stars later in life.

As an established artists he gathered together 500 3-4 minute long silent film shots of famous people – he wanted to capture them in a raw state.

He also spent a great deal of time hoarding his now-famous time capsules. The existence of these was completely unknown until his death in 1987. The time capsules were Warhol’s largest collecting project, in which he saved source material for his work and an enormous record of his own daily life. Warhol began creating them in 1974 after relocating his studio. He selected items from correspondence, magazines, newspapers, gifts, photographs, business records, and all sorts of material that came to him. Once the box was full he sealed it with tape, marked it with a date or title, and put it in his archive. As a whole, this material provides a unique view into Warhol’s personal life, as well as a fascinating cultural backdrop illustrating the social and artistic scene at that time. From the early 1970s until his death in 1987, Warhol created 612 finished of these amazing boxes of ‘stuff’.

The boxes in all their glory.

Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell collected boxes of strange things juxtaposed together to create a story, a dream, a memory.

By collecting and carefully juxtaposing various things in small, glass-front boxes, Cornell created visual poems in which surface, form, texture, and light are joined. Using objects which we are familiar with, Cornell made boxes about concepts we cannot see: ideas, memories, fantasies, and dreams.

One of the boxes.

There are three types of collecting:

  • Personal collecting – artists use collections in symbolic ways. For example Stefan Hoderlein collecting images of clothes against a black background or Whitfield Lovell collecting hands.
  • Professional collecting – collecting from an anthropological point of view, collecting for interest, collecting items from a culture or to illustrate history. For example Portia Munson collected discarded plastic objects to examine the larger cultural attitudes towards the contemporary world, and to look at current trends. Or we could look towards Karsten Bott who collected, stored and classified objects in various ways.
  • Institutional collecting – this is what museums do. In 1999 Mark Dion carried out the Tate Thames Dig, commissioned by the Tate. It was an archaeological project, basically to dig up the bank of the Thames and show off what had been dug up. The result was an imposing show case of glass-fronted display cabinets containing a multitude of weird and wonderful artifacts. The exhibits were displayed in the Millbank Tate. The end result was an illustration of a process of recovery, conservation, classification and installation. However, Dion considers himself an artist, not an archaeologist. His work is a work of art, not a study of history.

Mark Dion’s things on show.

Is collecting just part of human nature? Why do children love to collect so much? What is it about human nature that loves to catalog and collect, to chart, to organize, to display? Do we feel our lives are too chaotic without classification? Children will collect even the most mundane of objects such as pebbles, sticks, or pieces of string. And they will classify those objects into colours, size, strength, attractiveness.

These guys are just begging to be classified by colour, size, skimming ability or aesthetic qualities.

What does a person’s collection say about themselves, about their history, about their personality?

A collection of shopping lists over time might show changes in lifestyle (pregnancy, children, children growing up), eating habits (both personal and cultural), they could show a personal history (extra items bought such as gifts, books, CDs, DVDs).

Our current shopping list – what does this say about my family?

People naturally collect relationships – letters, cards, presents, etc from another person. Sometimes these collections are published.

Rachel Hurdley

Rachel Hurdley is another famous collector. She applied her collecting to a study of culture. She made a study which aimed to apply narrative methods to an analysis of the meaning of British domestic culture. The data she used came from an exploratory project investigating how and why people displayed objects in their homes, using mantelpiece displays as the principal focus (although other methods of display were used). Respondents were invited to tell stories about the provenance and meaning of objects. The article analysed the narratives as social performances demonstrating the extent to which the apparently ‘private’ experiences of the self are manifested by means of display objects and domestic artefacts. Narratives and objects come together to marry the personal and the social.

I decided to do the same…

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1 Response to Collecting – notes from a tutorial – is it geeky to collect or art?

  1. Pingback: Other collectors worth a mention – from my fellow arty students | BeckyBendyLegs

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