Humans aren’t the only creatures inhabiting this blue planet that tend to collect souvenirs: rodents, squirrels, birds, and domesticated pets also collect their toys and trinkets. But we collect most of all living things. We even took it to the extreme by hoarding everything and suffocating our lives in it. We have too much.
Not everything we collect is junk, and we also collect beautiful effects and the insanely affluent collect significant possessions such as expensive jewellery, cars, artworks. If you watch any crime dramas on cable TV, you’ll also see that malignant characters collect people’s blood, hair and other iffy bits.
Artists are no different; we collect artefacts that are sometimes odder than usual. Not all artists gather peculiar things.
Contemporary pop-surrealist artist Mab Graves collects paintbrushes. Other artists gather thrift store paintings or their relatives’ paintings. But of course, then you get Andy Warhol, who collected everything from arcade machines to bottle caps and cookie jars.
There’s even been an exhibition entitled ”Mementos: Artists’ Souvenirs, Artifacts and Other Curiosities” where 73 artists presented objects of emotional value along with a brief description of why it is deemed valuable to them. Books, paintings, teabags and sea glass were amid the exhibition.
Then there is me: I’ve been collecting probably since birth. I’ve lost my collections over time and built different collections. I still have one tin of buttons my grandmother collected, I treasure it considerably and have added modestly to the collection over the years. Toys have long been donated to charity (to this very day I still beat myself up over my vintage My Little Pony collection).
Some of my childhood collections were a bit unconventional and met with disgust. I collected dead things: bugs, birds, mice. I felt remorse for the dead critters and took them home in my blue school suitcase. By the time I got back, things weren’t particularly rose-scented, and my beloved grandmother had the arduous task of disposing of the decomposing creatures before my parents made the discovery. I stopped bringing dead things home after a deceased honeybee stung me when I picked it up.
I started collecting ”safer” things such as shells, feathers, pebbles, bones, twigs and leaves. We moved around quite a bit, so I’ve lost my little macabre collections. They were most probably discovered and tossed out.
College made me more self-conscious, and I tried collecting girly stuff like nail polish, lipstick, earrings, posters and the like. That was before I discovered esoteric stores and all the mainstream things flew out of my mind. It started with crystals and Wiccan paraphernalia such as pentacle necklaces, tarot cards, mood rings, gemstones, Egyptian god statuettes and more feathers. I’m slowly reverting to collecting dearly departed critters with a moth and dragonfly wing. (Hey, it’s a start).
Now I collect my little cat’s whiskers when they fall off and store them away like a proud mother stores away her child’s baby teeth. I still collect pebbles, feathers, and so many leaves, but my most favourable collection by far is tree branches. I feel closer to nature by surrounding my space with tree branches. One of them is particularly vast and proudly hangs on my wall, encrusted with fairy lights. On special festivities such as Halloween or Christmas, I adorn it with decorations.
Everywhere you look, you will see old wine bottles standing around (which I also collected at some point) with branches flamboyantly protruding from them. Beneath them you will find stacks of old books, yes probably a few boxes of books lay immaculately compiled athwart my floor and my large faux wood casket filled with more glass bottles.
”Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase.”
– Marcel Duchamp