Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The curating impulse - childhood collections.

I've been thinking a lot lately about whether curation, which is so often seen as some official museum and therefore in someways an artificial occupation, is actually quite an intuitive impulse that starts when we are quite young. I'm sure everyone reading this probably at some point in their childhood had a collection, whether it was ceramic frogs or troll toys or marbles or, as in my case, My Little Ponies (I had 37 and they were my most cared for possessions). I also remember being given, by my great aunt who lived most of her life in India, a selection of clay dolls representing every region's traditional dress, and I somehow knew that these were to be treasured and displayed together and looked after. That somehow this group of objects was stronger as a whole and represented something more than a random pile of stuff. I still have them to this day, kept carefully together in a box, and somehow the fact that I first had them and displayed them as a child, makes there significance as a collection even more valuable and apparent to me.

But I also think that childhood collections and what I would call the curating impulse are important, as they are when we first start to create something that is especially our own, that is unique to us. This can be incredibly important when growing up. I remember when I was little and the only girl with two brothers and surrounded by male cousins, there was something about having a collection that was just mine - that they wouldn't steal and play with - that was my own little world I could retreat in, that was incredibly soothing. It made me happy and it made me value things. It also wasn't a static collection but something I could always take with me - to school or more likely roaming the local fields and woods as I did. It was like a portable dream world, that also taught me to value things. I think early collections are also hugely important in terms of our creative development - the stories and games we make up around these possessions. We learn that objects can be the inspiration - the catalyst that takes us into dream worlds. For example I remember being desperate for Flower Fairies as I was sure that if I collected these they would take me to a new imaginary magical world. Now one could be cynical and say the marketing people had succeeded, but it wasn't so much about possession as creation and escapism - enabling even further realms for the imagination to travel to. I don't mind consumerist marketing working if that is the result.

I also think there is something about childhood collections that represents hope and aspiration. I remember collecting an entire grooming kit for a horse I would never have. I went to saddle shops and bought a hay net and a head collar, even though I had no horse to use these things. But that didn't really matter as this collection, rather than a heap of pointless unused objects, represented my dreams and in themselves allowed me dream even more - to feel that my aspiration of owning a horse was somehow not out of reach. Maybe this is how collections function throughout our lives - they give us something we dream of - whether literally or in terms of how they bring dreams closer. And as an adult the memories of these childhood collections still hold an importance - I am a bit of a hoarder but can usually take to charity shops stuff I've bought as an adult but no longer need, but these childhood collections I could never chuck away as they now seem to hold both memories and the hope that they represented. The smell of unused saddle soap still makes me feel optimistic. I have a basket of marbles that seems to hold as many memories and feelings as a teenage diary might have.

And now? Well now I sort of collect lots of things - from my guilty Chie Mihara shoe habit that I can't afford, to old travel guides, vintage Textron ads, 1930s tea sets, holiday souvenir jewellery, vintage dresses, random found objects, found photo albums, lots of moomin things, old embroidered pictures... But do any of them make me feel as emotional as a bag of marbles and a plastic pony? Probably not... (Applejack was my favourite).

Here at museeme I'd be really interested to hear about anyone's childhood collections. If you have one you'd like to share in photos, stories or just memories, do write and let me know. I would like this to be a recurring feature.

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