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.

1601233059_b8db56d7ed_b

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.

 

671847

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.

Why do I collect?

The massively popular video game/TV series known as Pokemon made its way into my life when I was roughly eight years old. I remember attending a rabbit show that my mother was a part of and receiving my very first Pokemon trading card; a Squirtle (Fig. 1). At the time, I had no idea how much prominence these little pocket monsters would have throughout my life, but what I did know is that they made me happy, and the thrill of collecting trading cards took off from that point.

Squirtle
(Fig. 1) 1999 Squirtle Pokemon TC

As I grew older into my early teens I continued to collect Pokemon trading cards; to be honest I think every kid did. Back then we had a small collectible card shop located on Bryan’s square. I have wonderful memories of taking trips to this shop with my younger brother and father. Every Wednesday after my father would get off from work he would drive us to the shop, give both of us $2, and let us go pick out some cards. The owner of the shop, who was an incredibly nice man, would greet us every week and slip us rare Pokemon promo cards for free. It became my candyland, my heaven, a place where nothing ever was bad. As the years went by I amassed quite the collection of cards (Fig. 2); filling a number of binders. Eventually the card shop closed down due to trading cards dwindling popularity among kids; however I continued to collect.

DSC_0246
(Fig. 2) My binder collection of cards

Even to this day I have never stopped collecting; though my standards on quality has shifted. The aspect of monetary value and investment value has been slowly integrating into my overall love for collecting; something that I had never considered as a kid. I have recently started collecting PSA (Professional Sports Authenticators) graded Pokemon Cards (Fig. 3). These cards are professionally graded and authenticated in order to preserve their monetary value over extended periods of time. For example, lets say you have a card that is worth $10 ungraded; just the card and nothing else. That same card, if given a “Gem-Mint 10” rating by PSA, would have it’s worth increased to potentially $100+; all because it had been authenticated and placed in a vacuum sealed preservation case.

DSC_0252
(Fig. 3) My current 2013-2017 PSA Graded Pokemon Cards

Now, some may raise the question: “Matthew, as a 27 year old man, why do you collect these things?” The short answer is simply LOVE. As cheesy as it sounds, love plays a major part in why anyone collects. The love of the hunt, the love of the items, the love of the memories, the love of the experiences; both past and present. When I acquire a new card, I remember the good times that I had with my father, the experiences of trading cards with my friends, and the joy of walking into that card shop on Bryan’s square. The ability to relive moments of my life that brought me such tremendous amounts joy is addictive, but not in an intrusive way. Just like a journal, these cards provide a chronological calendar to my life. I have cards that comforted me when I was involved in a horrible car wreck at the age of fifteen. Other cards that documented my trip to the first Pokemon movie at the age of ten. And of course that Squirtle card that started it all back in 1999. We all have those special mementos that we cherish and preserve. What are yours?

P.S. Here is a great Ted Talk about why we collect: Click Here

The Goldmine

  1. When one begins to gather “fragments of blue dense,” one might think one is paying tribute to the blue wholes from which they came. But a bouquet is no homage to the bush. Over the years I have amassed countless blue stones, blue shards of glass, blue marbles, trampled blue photographs peeled off sidewalks, pieces of blue rubble from broken buildings, and though I can’t remember where most of them came from, I love them nonetheless. – Maggie Nelson

 

Every evening I stroll out to my car, throw my ladder, gloves, and crowbar into the back, and drive to the goldmine. The ladder, which I lazily never tie down, slides and rattles in my car’s interior with every turn. I try to leave at around 7:45pm, knowing that it will be 8pm by the time I reach my destination; the exact moment when all the employees who work at the goldmine go home for the day. While I am rarely concerned with others noticing my presence, I do try to make my desires unobtrusive for others. After a brief drive I reach my point of interest, giddy with excitement. The clock strikes 8pm and all is clear; my window of opportunity begins.

I pull my car around to the back of the complex where the goldmine entrance lays; Its rusted brown walls reflecting the evening sunset as I approach. Blurs of foreign objects protruding from the entrance come into focus as I park my car alongside it. It’s going to be a fruitful evening. With roughly an hour of sunlight left at my disposal, there’s no time for me to waste; I get to work. My first priority is to scout out the goldmine and observe the general contents left that day. Will the goldmine make me rich beyond my wildest dreams, or will I go for broke? Fortunately today, it appears that many treasures await me. With a smile freshly formed on my face, I retrieve my ladder and dawn my gloves.

As I sift through the piles of clutter and dirt, I start to pull out pieces of gold. Broken table legs, outdated electronics, storage containers, children’s toys, memories, experiences, time. Each piece of gold confines in me its desire to become something more; more than mere memories remembered by no one. Like a child picking out their first dog at a pet store, I feel somewhat heartbroken as I am forced to pick and choose who gets to be removed from the goldmine, and who will remain. If I had my way I would certainly take them all, but space and transportation limits me. With a pile of gold growing at the base of my ladder, and the sun slowly falling below the horizon, I decide to call it a day. The treasures I obtained are joyful to leave the goldmine, and I am joyful for their existence and future life. A loud thud echoes as I close up my car and drive away, only to return to the goldmine the next evening.

 

Never Letting Go

 

Hello everyone, and happy summer! Hopefully everyone has been taking some time to rest up and recharge their batteries. I thought I would take a moment to briefly talk about my plans for these crucial next two and a half months of work.

One of my biggest fears as summer approached was finding a studio space back home to work in; since there is literally no room in my parent’s house. To give you an idea as to how little space there is for me to work back home, 18 out of the 20 pieces in my portfolio that I submitted for application to CCAD, I created on my bed; no joke. Luckily, I was able to score a beautiful storage locker situated in my hometown of Bryan OH, and it will serve as my temporary studio for the summer. It is roughly 14’x40′.

Next on the agenda: finding STUFF. Back in Columbus, acquiring misc. items was fairly easy and everything was within walking distance. However, back home in the sticks I have had to readjust my approach due to fewer junk hotspots; not to mention those hotspots being mush farther distances from me. However, amidst the endless miles of cornfields I knew there was one holy grail: Goodwill. As a former employee to Goodwill in Bryan OH, I have noticed that literally pounds and pounds of junk is tossed out on a daily basis; mostly because the items are either broken or not of quality for selling. All of these damaged goods are then thrown into a massive pull away dumpster; my goldmine. I have found my STUFF!

So what are my plans for this summer? I have started a new project that I like to call Never Letting Go, an exploration into hoarding disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, particularly the rituals associated with them. This project will include:

  • Documentation of every item that I acquire over the summer.
  • Research into the rituals and habits tied to OCD and hoarding disorder.
  • Research into emotional attachment to objects.
  • Investigation into my own personal experiences with both disorders.
  • Constructing a body of work that reflects all of the above.

I am excited for this opportunity to dive deep into topics that are close to my heart. These next two and a half months are going to fly by, but like Ric and Molly instills in us all: you just have to go out and do it. I’ll be posting on my blog every week with what I have been up to, so keep an eye out.

 

 

Fragments

It is that time again; the blog post before critique. So I have been quite busy since my first critique of the semester and am looking forward to diving into the second one. For starters I have been experimenting with scale; something that was brought up during my prior critique. While I am not totally satisfied with my recent piece that is suspended outside my studio, the sheer size of it is resonating with me; which tells me I am on the right path.

I have also been experimenting with corrupting video. I started documenting my scavenging adventures every night and going into the coding of the video to corrupt it from the inside out. While I don’t really see where they tie in with my sculptures; and perhaps they are a separate entity in of themselves,  I feel there is a sparkle amidst the coal.

Lastly I will be discussing my large scale installation that I will be working on from now until the end of the semester. I have reserved Sarah’s old studio from March 20th until the end. I plan on constructing a claustrophobic, obsessive bombardment environment that extends from the inside of the studio out to the entrance walls/floor/ceiling. While it certainly is a hefty endeavor, I am confidant in my construction process and have already been building modules prior to having access to the studio.

That pretty much wraps it up. I am looking forward to the discussions and impressions.

Error 404

Since my first critique of the semester is quickly approaching, I figured I would take this time to describe some experiments that are currently underway. After working on a number of different processes last semester, I thought it would be beneficial for me to utilize this new semester by focusing on a single, relatively large, installation. Now that doesn’t mean that experimenting is banned, far from it, but I wanted to tackle this installation in a somewhat concise manner.

First off are my sculptures. Last semester, though I explored a few different applications for presentation, the overall body of work was rather static. This was further articulated during the EOS show. Taking that into account I am going to be focusing on how I can use space more to my advantage. I am also working to make my sculptures appear more lively; give them more of a personality. I tend to treat the objects that I collect as entities in of themselves, so depicting them more as living creatures would help to improve their authenticity.

Next, something completely out of my wheelhouse. For the first time I have been experimenting with digital imagery; both in the form of GIFs and static images. What I have been doing is essentially corrupting digital images; going into their interior coding and altering their exterior self. I am finding that they visually give a sense of internal struggle; which is indicative of my themes pertaining to mental illness. It is very much still an exploration of digital imagery, but I am also slowly teaching myself to corrupt audio and film. These new processes could potentially open up additional avenues for my installation work.

Overall I am excited to see where this semester takes me. It’s going to be a busy one, but I feel it will also be fulfilling.

Below are a couple corrupted images as an example.

 

 

 

Double the Crit, Double the Fun

What a crazy week it has been, and what a crazy last two weeks it will be. I can feel myself slowly trying to shut down for winter break, but adrenaline has been keeping me going. This Thursday will be my second critique for the semester, and then a week later will be the EOS show; so my brain has been pretty fried. However, I look back on where I started this semester and I can say with confidence that I am proud of what I have accomplished. I may not have all of the answers for my work, but I personally don’t feel that we should know everything right now.

I have been somewhat nervous about this double crit. that is upon me, but John brought up a very good point the other night while in my studio. He said “everyone is going to place their opinion on the conceptual things, but no one can question your work ethic.” Being the workaholic that I am, it made me feel good that even though I may not have the answers to everything, I still can present a body of work that shows I have been trying. As my mentor Gordon Lee has told me, “you have to hit a piece of art and keep hitting it and hitting it. You may not know why you’re making what you’re making, but you have to keep fighting through it and struggle with it. Only then will you find your voice”

It has been an exciting experience watching my work evolve piece by piece; transitioning from one medium to another. I am even more excited for what will come in the future. It has been a crazy ride already, and it has only been the first hill. Here’s to another good semester.