Picking up the Pieces

Loneliness is a desire for closeness, for joining up, joining in, joining together, for gathering what has otherwise been sundered, abandoned, broken or left in isolation. Loneliness is a longing for integration, for a sense of feeling whole.”

Olivia Laing


As summer quickly winds down to a close, so too does my time within my temporary studio. When I first approached this summer-long project, I knew full well that whatever artwork that I ended up producing would not be able to be kept due to lack of storage space outside of my studio. However, tossing out all of the items that I had acquired over the last three months was simply out of the question. So this posed a unique quandary for me; how can I preserve all of these items?


I began thinking of the different methods in which items are preserved for the sake of collecting; methods such as vacuum bags, protective cases, and storage boxes. Wanting to implement similar methods of preservation for my more unconventional items, I began taking samples of each and every object that I had acquired; using a pair of sheers to snip off small fragments. I then took these fragments, roughly 1”x1” in scale each, and placed them within individual 2”x3” vacuum sealed bags. Since this act of fragmentation had reduced the items to a miniature sample of their former selves, I developed a special code for each item in order to prevent future confusion. Each code can then be traced to a respective spreadsheet documenting unique aspects that the object originally had. For an example, a small red fragment with the code UP234 tells me that it was a “U” unused, “P” plastic item, and it is the “234” item in that series. When I look up UP234 on the spreadsheet, it indicates that it was a toy fire truck, roughly 3”x5” in scale, and it was red.

Reflecting back on my blog post regarding control, and the destruction of the object in the name of preservation, I realized that what I was trying to accomplish by way of fragmentation was exactly what Philipp Blom had hinted at in his book To Have and To Hold. My desire to preserve was falling in line with the nature of the collector. The objects were falling prey to my will; not the other way around. By way of fragmentation, the objects lose their original identity; their life. No longer was the toy fire truck a toy fire truck, but instead it had become UP234. It, along with hundreds of other items, had become a code; a code created by the collector, i.e. I, in my attempt to preserve my own preconceived memories that I had implanted on them. Fragmentation had killed the objects, yet at the same time preserved them for however long I choose. In the end, this act is all about my need to CONTROL. Now where my desire for control originates from, it is hard to say. Perhaps it is rooted within in my childhood; such as my longing for collecting Pokemon Cards. However, what I can tell you is that I have stumbled upon something of great interest to me, and I am excited to further explore this upon returning to campus.

Loneliness: Filling the Void

Last week I discussed how the act of collecting can come in all shapes and sizes. I briefly contextualized the impact of traumatic experiences, and how these events can trigger the desire to collect objects; primarily in an attempt to come to terms with said traumatic experience. I wanted to touch this week on another aspect that holds significant prominence in why an individual would begin collecting objects: loneliness.

Within the book The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone by Olivia Laing, Laing dives into the feeling of loneliness and its role in how we react to our surroundings.

“When people enter into an experience of loneliness, they trigger what psychologists call hyper-vigilance for social threat, a phenomenon Weiss first postulated back in the 1970s. In this state, which is entered into unknowingly, the individual tends to experience the world in increasingly negative terms, and to both expect and remember instances of rudeness, rejection and abrasion, giving them greater weight and prominence than other, more benign or friendly interactions. This creates, of course, a vicious circle, in which the lonely person grows increasingly more isolated, suspicious and withdrawn. And because the hyper-vigilance hasn’t been consciously perceived, it’s by no means easy to recognize, let alone correct, the bias.”

It is at this moment of hyper-vigilance, this repetitious circle of discontent, where I personally feel the act of collecting can arise, and become a metaphorical pressure release valve for the individual coping with loneliness. Think about moments of our lives where the feeling of loneliness comes to the surface; such as when a loved one passes away, when we move to a new city, when we experience a difficult breakup. Each of these scenarios, aka the subject, carries with it an attempt to reconcile with the discomfort and detachment, aka the predicate. When a pet passes away, we go out and purchase a new one. When we move to a new city, we acquire items that remind us of our previous home. When we experience a difficult breakup, we purchase items in an attempt to glaze over the discomfort of loss, i.e. clothes, food, entertainment.

Loneliness triggers an action, some of which mend the broken pieces, while others further perpetuate a state of being broken. This is why collecting can become so unbelievably addictive when placed within the realm of loneliness. Collecting things creates a temporary high, a thrill, an aversion to the underlying crumbling structure of oneself. When we collect, we feel lifted, for we have acquired something that we previously did not have. This feeling, of course, never sustains for longer than a brief moment, and the crippling hands of loneliness drag us back into the hole. So what do we do? We venture forth for that high once more; all the while we neglect the real issue at hand; loneliness. Whether it is through drugs, stamps, coins, cars, sex, whatever it may be; when one succumbs to loneliness, collecting can sometimes become the drug of choice. An attempt to reach that high again and again. An attempt to fill the void.