Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Visual Connections

I am a gatherer of things. One peek through the windows of my house would show you that. Every room is a testament to the layer upon layer of visual stimulii and memory that I have gathered over a lifetime so far. I am fascinated by the whole concept of collecting – why we even have the urge, what we choose to collect and how we choose to display it – or not, as the case may be. I have thought long and hard about why I surround myself with so much stuff – much of it completely valueless in a monetary sense. I’m not sure I have come up with any concrete and completely satisfying answers but I do know it is not about materialism. For me it is more about the notion of things – colours, textures, forms and the subtle combinations of all three – triggering some deeply-stored memory. For the writer and artist in me, those memories form the rich, creative storehouse that feeds and drives my output. I couldn’t be without them - and believe me I've tried. Not all creative people work and think this way or course; not all respond to visual stimulii; and those who gather things are not all engaged in creative pursuits. I was reminded of this recently when I stayed with friends in Auckland. I went about photographing things in their house – the things they have arranged to stamp their home with an individuality that can’t readily be replicated; at least not replicated in any way that comes from the heart. I saw recurring colours, recurring patterns, repeated forms, often-missed links – as the photographs here aptly demonstrate. It pleased me. More than that, it excited and inspired me and gave me a deeper insight into them as people.
I have returned to this topic on this blog many times and now that I sit here considering the matter (looking at my office windowsill crammed full with its little displays of birds’ eggs, seed pods, wooden cotton reels, feathers, stones, cones and a small Buddha), I am also reminded of an interview I did for a magazine last year. The owner was a complex character with a huge and impressive collection of modern art, furniture, design items, antiques and quirky collectibles.
It was like stepping inside a small private museum curated by someone with an inherent understanding of what moved them visually, emotionally and intellectually. Every space had a purpose and every treasure a place. It was an interior that combined history, design principles and personal stories. “I am a hunter and a gatherer,” the owner said. “But it is more than just collecting. It is about the manifestation of a certain consciousness – the almost subconscious gathering of aesthetically pleasing things that are subtly linked. Things are put together around central themes - that is what makes a house alive. The more contemporary downstairs is all about looking forward and outward and the more traditional upstairs is about looking backwards and inwards.” To illustrate his point, he drew attention to the simple black and white design elements in twelve fabric posters made in 1852 by the London Workingmen’s Educational Union (discovered in a Christchurch antique shop) and the stylistic similarities they shared with the exquisite hand-painted Fornisetti desk from Fornisetti in Milan. “It all comes together around subtle connections,” he said. “Individual items become something different when they are placed within a certain context. They expand and become alive – full of soul and spirit.” Someone else who has written about this subject recently is Christchurch art historian, Cheryl Bernstein. You can read her excellent piece "The Accidental Curator" on her blog,


Mes said...

Talking about collecting - have you seen Ronnie van Hout's work - called Formation in the exhibition Snare/mahanga at the McDougall Art Gallery as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival? He's playing with memory and collection after seeing the golden kakapo that is in the ornithological collection at Canterbury Museum. There are also many other birds - some collected by Buller and 8 contemporary artists responses. Check it out!

Anonymous said...

love the article on Collections.....being a collections "nut" myself

Leslee Ross


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