As an artist, you're bound to collect stuff. After all, how can you create art without lots of paint, paper, canvas, clay, stone, metal, fabric, thread, and yarn? But how much stuff? Has your textile stash migrated into every part of the house because one closet won't hold it all? Is your garage so packed with recycled materials for assemblage that you can't park your car in there? Do you have any space left for yet another bin of plastic pieces in the barn?
If you're already wondering whether you're a hoarder, rest assured that I won't be visiting to check. Instead, here's another definition of hoarding to consider--collecting for repurposing. Now, doesn't that sound better?
An obsessive collector, Clare Graham doesn't give any of this a second thought. His stuff--a staggering amount of dominoes, buttons, ropes, wires, pop tops, scrabble tiles, yardsticks, swizzle sticks, bottle caps, soda cans, tin cans, and other disposable items--is piled in a 7,000-square-foot warehouse, MorYork, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. He started his "habit" in Canada, when only eight years old, using the dozens of drawers in a roll top desk to catalog and organize such found items as crystals, rocks, and animal bones. As an adult, Graham often waits years to accumulate just the right size, texture, and quantity of objects before piercing, stringing, collaging, and bundling them into his unique sculptures. I saw a room loaded with them at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles in October 2014. Incredible recycling!
Louise Bourgeois, born in France in 1911, saved nearly every item of clothing she wore. She also accumulated everything else--from wood and plaster, to latex, marble, bronze, and glass--to create her artwork. In the 1990s, she decided to use her own clothes as sculptural elements, on various hanging devices and in enclosed installations or "cells." It seemed a logical choice. Because she barely left home once in her 80s, she stopped needing her many outfits for different occasions and was no longer concerned with fashion in the way she had once been. Then, in 2002, at the beginning of her 90s, Bourgeois constructed the linen binding and pages of Ode a l'oubli ("Ode to Forgetting/the Forgotten") out of 60-year-old, monogrammed hand towels from her trousseau for a 1938 wedding. Working from one page to the next for six months, Bourgeois cut, arranged, and stitched her own used clothing as well as sheets, tablecloths, napkins, and leftover scraps to form 32 fabric collages that comprised the "book."
Artists Judith Selby-Lang and Richard Lang collect plastic, lots and lots of it. While most people put their plastic remains into recycling bins to be picked up, since 1999 the Langs have been bringing home plastic debris they find washed up on Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco. They clean, sort by color, and categorize thousands of pieces. Then they "curate" these bits of plastic and fashion them into artwork--sculptures, prints, jewelry, and installations--that has been exhibited internationally. Their on-going "archeological" project about our throwaway culture and plastic pollution of our seas has been featured on NPR and in film festivals. And it all started on a first date. Click here to see the vimeo.
There are many more artists who turn accumulations into particular artwork. Pascale Marthine Tayou, born in Cameroon in 1967, creates large installations to address political, social and environmental concerns. In some, he adorns crystal glass figures with beads, plastic flowers, and feathers, or he pierces Styrofoam with thousands of pins and razor blades and stacks hundreds of birdhouses against a wall. He also embellishes "dolls" with cable ties, key rings, plastic bags, brightly colored beads, brushes and plastic knives, or piles up colored plastic bags and wraps and binds with cloth, sewing and knitting himself. For videos of 2015 "World Share" installations at The Fowler Museum at UCLA, click here.
After three colorful images of Tayou's art, the final two photos are of "Man's Cloth," by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. Renowned for his large-scale, complex, intricate, yet flexible metallic cloth-like wall assemblages, he lets curators alter their shapes with each installation. For a video of "Gravity and Grace," click here. For "Man's Cloth," El Anatsui sourced the thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal from local alcohol recycling stations in Nigeria and bound them together with copper wire. It is a kind of homage to kente cloth, woven by the Asante and Ewe peoples and probably the best known of all African textiles. El Anatsui's artwork references colonial and postcolonial economic and cultural exchange in Africa, consumption, and environment. But he also points to the power of human creativity and ingenuity to transform what has been discarded and even to make it beautiful. As the saying goes, "One man's [woman's] trash is another man's treasure."
So feel free to keep collecting but don't forget to put all that stuff to good use: create more art with it or share it with others to help them create art too.
Questions and Comments:
If you're a collector/hoarder, what do you accumulate and what's your particular attraction to those items?
How do you use the materials/objects you amass to create art?
Who are your favorite artists who work with huge amounts of materials?
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