Control

“Every collection is a theatre of memories, a dramatization and a mise-en-scene of personal and collective pasts, of a remembered childhood and of remembrance after death. It guarantees the presence of these memories through the objects evoking them. It is more even than a symbolic presence: a transubstantiation. The world beyond what we can touch is with us in and through them, and through communion with them it is possible to commune with it and become part of it.”

Philipp Blom

 

Blom’s observation regarding collecting holds significant weight. Take for example, my habit of collecting Pokemon cards and their significance to my childhood. With any form of collecting, regardless of what you collect, there is always a string of personal significance present. The items that we collect become the bridge linked to a time that impacted our lives; both good, and yes even bad. Now why would someone collect items associated with a bad experience? The simple answer, as stated in my previous blog post, is control.

Traumatic incidents cut deep scars into our psyche; and the aftermath generally leaves one attempting to regain control of, not only the present, but of the past incident. I recently read a passage within the book titled Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things that demonstrates this desire to regain control through collecting.

The incident that occurred involved a home invasion in which the victim was robbed at gunpoint. After surviving the traumatic experience, the victim began to slowly accumulate newspapers and magazines within their bedroom; the site where the home invasion took place. Collecting became a vehicle, a tool, a means for the victim to regain some form of control reassurance; control that was not present during the home invasion. The accumulating continued to grow in intensity over the following months, until eventually the bedroom was filled floor to ceiling with stuff. The once ordinary bedroom, now consumed by paper and scraps, had transformed into an artificially constructed safe haven for the victim; a safe house essentially, as the victim attempted to make sense of the past incident via collecting. The walls of said bedroom became the containment; the barrier between the valuables on the inside, i.e. the victim, and the dangers of the outside world.

Collecting takes on many shapes and forms. Some are rooted in fond memories of childhood; others stem from more negative and traumatic beginnings. However, wherever the origin starts, the personal experiences imbued into the objects by the collector are always present; the self is never removed from the object. This is why control remains the essence of all collecting.

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Preservation

As a child I used to collect insects of all shapes and sizes, and to be honest I was pretty good at it too. I would spend my evenings running around my parent’s backyard with a net in hand and plastic bags in my pocket; all in the hopes of acquiring a unique bug to add to my collection. Most of the time I would find the usual critters; pill bugs, earwigs, dragonflies, monarch butterflies, bumble bees. However, on the rare occasion I would stumble upon a rare find, like a centipede, cicada, or a beetle. Every insect that I gathered would be put into a bag, placed within the freezer to both preserve and kill the insect, then put into a glass-front display. A needle would be placed through the insect’s body to prevent it from shifting in the display. I typically displayed the insects in groupings, such as “small”, “large”, “winged”, etc. It was an enjoyable hobby, one that even took me to the state championships for insect collecting in 4-H.

However, when we attempt to preserve an object, such as insects for an example, the act becomes a catch-22. We attempt to give the object immortality; sealing them in vacuum bags, air-tight containers, dust-proof covers, and moisture controlled environments. We do everything within our powers to make sure that the object, not only outlives us, but for many years thereafter. Though we attempt to give the object everlasting life, we also kill the object at the same time. We kill the objects original function, we kill the environment it once inhabited, we kill the past experiences tied to the object, and we kill the objects potential future experiences. Preservation brings about the death of the object; both symbolically, and literally in some cases.

The object, now void of its original existence, is given a new life, a life that is dictated solely by the desires of the collector. It lives within a synthetic environment, one that is structured with new rules and order; for example the bug collection categorization. Though completely foreign in this new environment, the object remains powerless to abject while under the control of the collector. This is the essence of collecting: control.

Whether or not collecting is a bad thing remains debatable, and I can certainly see validity to both sides of the argument. However, amidst all of this information, I find it incredibly interesting that no matter what you are collecting, whether it is art, cars, trading cards, insects, rocks, they all have an underlying element of control.

Next week I will be diving deeper into the pros and cons of collecting with regards to control. Stay tuned!

Hunt, Pull, Sting, High

“Piles of books lined the entire hallway and more were sitting on every step of the staircase leading up to the first floor. Books were creeping up the walls and occupying every inch of free space on the floor, on tables, chairs and other furniture. The rooms were accessible only through narrow canals winding through a mountainous landscape of reading matter in all shapes and sizes. He showed me around the house. There were books surrounding his bed, books on shelves above it, books in front of the bathtub, and books in his study, which also contained a special treasure – his violin, which he said he had not played for many years but always wanted to take up again”

Philipp Blom

 

Over the course of the last two months I have been doing a considerable amount of reading and research into the nature of collecting and its long dynamic history. One particular book, which I highly recommend if you are a history buff, or just curious about collecting, is Philipp Blom’s To Have and To Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting. (I have attached a picture of the cover to this post)

Blom does an excellent job of going through the timeline of collecting, from its early birth amongst nobility, to the increase in individual collecting and the establishment of Kunstkammaers during 16th century Europe. He highlights certain eccentric individuals throughout the history of collecting, capturing their unique motives and desires for acquiring objects.

One collector that Blom discussed was Charles Willson Peale, the portraitist for Revolutionary heroes, such as Jefferson and Washington, who also happened to be an avid collector of objects. A particular quote that resonated with me regarding Peale was that “Peale was much concerned with arresting the present, and with the eventual but inexorable disappearance of everything he held dear”.

As a collector, I too am interested in arresting the present, the existing, this brief moment in time; knowing full well that my collecting is a pursuit with no destination. It is a chaotic blackhole that is never satisfied, a pleasure that is never fulfilled, an addiction that is solely facilitated by my choice. While the nature of collecting can seem ravenous at times in the eyes of those unfamiliar, case and point my studio space, I can assure you that it is one fueled by happiness and curiosity. It is the hunt, the pull, the sting, the high. The hunt for new unique items. The pull to take risk in the name of treasure. The sting of a new addiction. The high of acquiring. Rinse and repeat infinitely.

Inevitably these accumulations, my collections of desire, will disintegrate; if not during my time, than surely after I pass. However, if I can spend my life collecting items that bring me unending joy, then I will have no sadness once I am gone.

 

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The Grey Zone

A quick jot down of what has been floating around in my head.

 

Collecting

  • Individual is proud of possessions.
  • Typically is well organized. (i.e. my Pokemon card collection)
  • Brings long-term pleasure to the individual.
  • Items are sometimes put on display for others to view.
  • Not intrusive to one’s life.
  • Seen more as a hobby.
  • Individual generally works within their needs financially; though not in all cases.

 

Hoarding

  • Possessions bring a feeling of embarrassment to the individual.
  • Items are typically disorganized/cluttered; though this is not always the case.
  • Impulsive. (i.e. buys impulsively/accumulates impulsively)
  • Disregards boundaries. Items can invade living spaces to the point of the space being inhabitable.
  • Those who hoard avoid situations where other individuals might see their accumulation.
  • Very intrusive.
  • Brings short-term pleasure to the individual; enjoyment of items acquired is short-lived.
  • Typically stems from a traumatic event that occurred to the individual. (i.e. loved one dying, abuse, etc.)

 

While collecting and hoarding have stark differences, I have been noticing similarities between the two; what I like to call “The Grey Zone“.

The Grey Zone

  • The origin of collecting and hoarding could potentially stem from similar locations. (i.e. when they stem from sentimental attachment.)
  • Collecting can bounce into realms of hoarding; such as when collections become too big for the individual to manage. An excellent example of this is the 75 ton collection of comic strips that were accumulated by Bill Blackbeard; a collection that filled a majority of a house and garage; then later donated to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
  • Both collecting and hoarding have an addictive quality, and can cause severe financial instability and obstruction in one’s life depending on the individual.

 

I find these grey zones to be particularly interesting in my own art making practice.
Some questions that I contemplate include:

  • What constitutes something as art and not garbage?
  • If an individual considers their accumulation as collecting, but another considers that same accumulation as hoarding, who is right? Is there a right answer? Who determines that label?
  • If I take a literal pile of garbage and arrange the items into a form, is that garbage now considered art?
  • Are some forms considered “more art” than others?
  • If I take these sculptures that I have been producing and throw them all into a single haphazard pile, are they now considered garbage?
  • If I take garbage and put it into a storage locker, are the items now considered precious?
  • How does a space dictate preciousness?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but they are questions that are currently driving my art making process.