The other day I was unpacking a box (yes, almost a year after our house move there are boxes yet to be opened) and came upon a small yet very heavy suitcase and on opening it found it housed my collection of items unearthed from the allotment we were keeping up before the move.
Nine Stones is an arrangement from this allotment collection. I have a good number of other collections from around the world. I’ve pondered extensively on my compulsions to collect. One reason I’d not considered triggered this blog.
Some pieces I’ve collected have held more significance than others. The peculiar object in the second image is a piece of fossil coral I picked up in 1997; and which still holds me in thrall.
Originally lighter in colour and weight, it became progressively darker and weightier while in use as a mould for papier-mache casts. That meant coating it first with Vaseline which was thirstily sucked-up by the fossil’s dry, dead and empty coral cells. A sort of accidental unembalming – stroke – unmummification. Mummification having already been accomplished by time, the sea and the baking sun.
The two dark lines across this form mark where twice I dropped and smashed it then glued it together again (badly) with epoxy resin. There are permanent glittery bits where tinfoil has become embedded here and there – another side-effect from the papier-mache cast-making process.
The third image is of one of the papier-mache casts lying beneath a row of cross-sections of the fossil sliced from another cast. I added wax to these, which I discovered much later is used in mummification. Much later still, the use of wax developed into an interest in encaustic.
The fourth image is of a (water) coloured drawing of the fossil. And in image five, the form turns up again in Book of the Dead 2, a quasi artist’s book.
Synchronistically, the day I rediscovered my allotment collection, I also caught the back-end of a TV programme about a recent Royal Academy exhibition of the work of Tacita Dean.
In a Guardian article of an interview of Dean by Tim Adams I read: “… among other wonders she is including her collections of clover and round stones.
Stone collecting is a habit she shares with some other artists she’s gathered here: Paul Nash, Henry Moore. Her own fossicking was handed down from her father, a circuit judge and frustrated writer; the 17th-century house in which she grew up on the North Downs in Kent was “full of pocketed flints – it’s quite a British thing, isn’t it?””
I had to laugh. Here’s a picture of two from my flint collection. And another of some of my round stone collection.
Maybe it is a British thing. What could that mean?
The fragment I caught from the back-end of that TV programme about Tacita Dean is what compelled me to recommence blogging, after a three months’ silence (and I noticed just now that by sheer coincidence it’s exactly three months to the day since I wrote my last blog). The fragment addressed collecting in a way I’d not considered. Here’s the gist:
Collecting is not about the object collected, but about the holding oneself in a perpetual state of looking. It’s about looking, searching, noticing. Exhibiting the objects found is exhibiting looking-, searchingness.
Here’s a video about Dean’s RA exhibition that discusses, at 3.58, collecting and shows her collection of clovers.
The video is one of many published by The Art Channel.
Another bit of Tim Adams’ Guardian article that I like: “I always use the phrase ‘being in a state of grace’,” she says. “Sometimes when you are working hard and open to things you start to see patterns. I am not thinking of grace in a religious way, just in your head.”
As an aside, being away for such a long period from my work in the end made me ill, and it has been so dreadful that I plan on never doing that again. The plus in this is that I had never realised how vital is the process of art making (not its outcomes) to my health and well-being.
Creativity and health, ergo, walk hand-in-hand? Ergo, an absence of creativity walks hand-in-hand with sickness? Doctors take note.
I’ve just done some dyeing with some sumac heads I collected last year from the four mature sumac (Rhus typhina) trees I found growing in the garden here. I froze these for future use and as the future has now arrived … I will write about the results soon.