03 January 2014

Organising ephemera - some questions

Gerhard Richter assembled everything "that somehow seemed important to me and is a pity to throw away" - look how nicely the 802 sheets are organised! Dieter Roth did something similar, archiving all the scraps of rubbish less than 5mm thick, placing them in transparent folders in the binders. Fortunately he did this for only a year (1975-6), but even so this collection filled 623 ring binders, kept in travelling/storage cases -
Chronological order (via)
My thoughts, while sorting through my own collection of "things that somehow seem important to me", are about the usefulness of making such an archive - does the artist refer to it again? (Do people actually refer to their vast collections amassed on pinterest etc? I've been scrolling through a few of those lately...) How is something found if it's not catalogued or indexed in some way? Is the task to find something specific, or just to plunge in and see what chance might turn up? Is that a waste of time? Is there enough time available to start new projects generated at random in this way? What happens in such a rummaging - probably the items/images that catch your interest are things related to what runs deep for you ... and indeed you are looking through your own collection, which you've already chosen with that in mind.

What about the issue of preserving things "that it would be a pity to throw away" - is it better to move on to fresh things? Is having too many images/items actually a barrier to creativity/productivity? Can plenitude coexist with focus? What makes for a rich life? (oops I'm digressing)

Is it necessary, in the 21st century, to preserve newspaper cuttings, interesting packaging, snippets of quotes written on the back of envelopes? Will you or I "do a Richter" and organise and display our pitiful items beautifully ... and would anyone be interested? Is this self-indulgence, or is it art? In looking at one person's collection, does another ruminate on the ephemerality of life, or compare the items to those in their own collection?

Roth also reused his appointment diaries as sketchbooks
and for me this comes closer to a useful project, a way of retaining personally-important ephemera, of keeping hold of memory and even drawing the past into the present. Thinking about the irreducible minimum in my studio, I'd certainly want to keep all my sketchbooks - not just as a summary of my creative history but as a place where I'll find what continues to interest me, the strands that I'd like to develop in some way, indeed that have been developing since they first appeared on paper via my eye, brain, hand, heart. Though it's a comfort knowing they are there - when was the last time I looked at any of them? Is the act of recording "simply" a means of paying attention?

We're so lucky that so many images and ideas are easily accessible through the internet at the moment. There doesn't seem to be a need to keep anything other than our computers and other creative tools - no need for books, for collections of magazine articles or newspaper cuttings. No need to organise and store those collections.

Or is there?

In "Collections of Nothing", William Davies King talks about his collection of labels:
"One day I started to save the labels of all the food products I consumed—cereal, soup, candy, beer. I did not keep the cans or jars, only the paper or cellophane or plastic labels. Boxes and cartons I cut or dismantled. Everything had to lie flat, like a leaf in a book. ... Initially I kept the labels in my file cabinet, but soon began to punch holes and place the leaves in a binder. That way I was creating a “book,” and eventually I would have a lot of these books."

1 comment:

Felicity said...

I can't do the everything on the computer, store it in the Cloud - I just can't. I need tangible things in front of me - if I put things away I forget they exist!

The other issue for me with computer storage and the Internet is the element of perpetual distraction - reading a real book or working in a real sketchbook focuses your attention as nothing else can. It stops you here in the now and there is not the temptation to check the news or Facebook or your blog or anyone else's blog.

I collect ephemera but to use in my artwork, not for its own sake. Like book and sketchbooks it is real - not a shadow of its self on a computer file. I don't think you can substitute working with your hands on something real - there is no virtual equivalent to stitching, for example that is satisfying and meets the need for touch and three dimensionality.

Excellent post! and Happy New Year :)