Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Things we pick up along the way...

I was talking to my friend the other day about what we collected as a child and she mentioned how as they didn't have any money growing up her sister collected sticks. This made me remember how when I was young, even though we had money for toys, I was still like a magpie for seemingly dull objects - collecting pebble worlds whilst sat on the beach in Cornwall, or sticks in the garden or from the local woods. I didn't collect sticks as such, but I certainly accumulated lots of found natural objects and played with them - building miniature worlds, making up stories with stick people, squirreling away a particularly good find for building a future den...

I think we all have magpie tendencies. Yes we are obviously drawn to the physically appealing - I can spot a good pair of sparkly shoes or the perfect '50s dress a mile off - but what I've started to find interesting is the things we are drawn to that don't call out to us in an obvious way, particularly those from the natural world. Walking through the woods along the cliff path the other week I couldn't help but pick up this particularly good stick - it looked like a miniature tree house and was decorated with lovely moss. I still have it as if I might need it some day for making something, or might want to decorate it with little models. It bothers me the idea of chucking it away, just like a bird would not want to lose something that would work well in its nest. This made me remember how when I was touring Sicily in a theatre company eleven years ago now I found a really good staff-like stick whilst walking up to the temple at Segesta - now while I should remember the temple and the amazing nearby amphitheatre, which I do, they are no more vivid in my memory than said random stick. Is it that when we walk through the natural world we cannot help but want to collect things from it? Is this some natural instinct from thousands of years ago, or just a reminder that we are all connected to the natural world?

I remember being picked up from school once by my mother in her old battered Morris Minor that had moss growing on the windows, and climbing in the front seat to bash my legs against something strange on the floor. It was a giant, particularly pleasing, log. When I asked Mum about it, she just said "Oh that's Albert". Now whilst to someone not in my family this might seem particularly eccentric, and I find it very amusing/endearing, thinking back on it in this context again it was like Mum couldn't leave this log behind when she found it, almost like a grown up version of childhood stick hoarding. Virtually everyone I know when wandering on a beach can't help but collect pretty shells they find - was Mum and her log (no Twin Peaks jokes folks!) any different, except in scale and how taking home such a large object might be perceived as weird by others?

Linking this to curation and art and museums I don't think it is too far-fetched to link it to land art. Andy Goldsworthy uses things he finds that others might just take home, to make lovely site-specific natural art works that could be seen as curating the landscape he creates them in. Richard Long makes art works out of walks in the countryside - the walk itself and what he sees and finds becoming the work. An artist whose name I unfortunately can't remember (do tell me if you know) created a work that was left to travel down a river, so that the work itself was arguably brought to life by its process through the landscape and who might find and relate to it. Ana Mendieta used natural things she found as parts of performance art rituals...

I guess to conclude perhaps when we think of collections and the collecting instinct it is interesting to think outside of carefully and deliberately curated collections to the things we just instinctively collect as we wander around. Are they telling of a natural instinct - like a literal magpie? Do they say something about our relationship to the natural world? I would love to hear any anecdotes or about strange found natural collections anyone has... And now I'm off for a walk!

Andy Goldsworthy:

Richard Long:

My particularly good tree house stick!

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