To Have and to Hold - an ultimate history of collectors and collecting

Was just reading over some notes I made from To Have and to Hold - an ultimate history of collectors and collecting by Philipp Blom (The Overlooked Press 2003 NY America). and these caught my eye again: "Cabinets would contain:

  • beauty with strangeness
  • classical forms with riotous excess
  • scholarship with sheer curiosity
  • it is a repository of all that is bizare and exotic (sharks & crocodiles, deformed head),
  • all that is venerable (vases and cameos),
  • and of great and secret knowledge (books)"

These times must have been like being a toddler in todays world, where the discovery of new things creates wonder and intrigue. As an artist I think this is where I/we often sit. Trying to make the overlooked or the obvious new again with a different process/documentation/presentation approach. I believe artist should collect random things, things that inspire them and keep your own cabinet of your own curiosities from which you can pick from and be inspired by. (also read Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon. This little book keeps on inspiring me after owning it for 4 years) "collection is a philosophical project, as an attempt to make sense of the multiplicity and chaos of the world, and perhaps even to find in it a hidden meaning" This line really made me think about collecting and why we/I do it. And how this can be translated into my work.

It also made me think about  plants and the collecting & relationship we have with this collection, whether they are in the garden or our fridge. In general as a society we now have plants for pleasure, not for growing food or medicine in. This places a very different context on which plants people want and the look/taste they are after. These thoughts are bringing me back to the lost knowledge of all the weeds we walk, drive and run past in our daily lives. It is the loss and also the categorizing of these plants as weeds, hence deemed undesirable.

I am wanting to delve again into this area. "The cabinets of curio of the 16th and 17th century collectors had been full of objects and creatures that were extraordinary, out of the order of things. The whole point of this project had been to question and expand the kind of knowledge about the world that was extant in the West. What mattered was the sheer wonder of each object in itself, a material contradiction of the previously supposed limitations of the world. The being the toddler of the 21st century as mentioned above. The emerging scientific approach to nature turned this approach on  its head. Now the objectivity was to place everything within order of things, in its allotted place within the great system that was, at least potentially, capable of absorbing everything on earth and in the skies. The scientific mind was finally poised to master the order of things; indeed, according to some revolutionary writers, it was the scientific mind that established this order and imposed it on the universe.

This is where I feel I am at with my practice - I have a desire to order things. The early reading of Linnaeus - the compleat naturalist (by Wilfrid Blunt) and Art and Artefact - the Museum as Medium (by James Putnam) have inspired these thoughts. But also inspired by Mark Dion, Christine Helleyar, Susan HIller are a few artist who engage in museological approach in their practice. Often very much an ordering of a specific type, tool, site or presentation method used by these artist that reflects this approach.

My scientific mind will need to go round an artist bend, but am relishing this and thoughts of old photographic processes combined with places, items that plants come into contact with are taking shape.   References: Blom, Philip. To Have and to Hold - an ultimate history of collectors and collecting (2003) NY, America. The Overlooked Press. Putnam, James. Art and Artefact - the Museum as Medium (2001) NY, United States Of America. Thames & Hudson Inc

Posted by Elle Anderson

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