The Collecting of Unwanted Materials

The Collecting of Unwanted Materials

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Extended Outline

Summary of work
Title Page
A. Define Significant Object
B. How Significance is Obtained
I.)Trash Becomes Art
A. Giving Objects New Life and Restored Purpose
1. Anne Hamilton
2. Cornelia Parker
3. Jean Shin
4.Jan Leiruer
5.Mike Kelly
II.) Attachment to Objects in Everyday People
A. What Causes us to Attach to an Object
B. Survey Answers of Numerous People
III.) Significant Objects in My Work
A. Wedding Dress
B. Handmade Objects
1. Crochet
2. Handmade Objects
IV.) Collecting
V.) Gender Roles
VI.) Fantasy and Objects
A. Klein
B. Winnicott
C. In My Work
VII.) Conclusion
Viii.) Bibliography

Thesis: The intrinsic value of objects lies within the individual owner and is not relative to societal norms.
Significant objects are only significant to the owner; my art is the role reversal of the object based on societal norms

Summary of Work: My art involves the process of collecting objects that I have deemed
personally important. As these objects become an installation, the role of the object is removed from societal norms. The wedding dress is unraveled and destroyed and the discarded afghans are given extreme importance and are displayed as a work of art. I search for items depending upon the societal norm I am choosing to challenge. The objects are often donated by friends, family, co-workers and community members. The search for the correct quantity, color, style and size is all part of the process.
I put calls out on social networking sites, Craig's list and email list serves to acquire what I need, or I search second hand stores. The items for which I am searching relate to my past and I am dissatisfied with the importance or non-importance society has placed on the items. My completed project becomes my display and wherever I display it becomes my museum. These installations permit the audience to touch, carry, move inside, rearrange and even alter the materials thus allowing them to step outside
their normal comfort zone when entering an art gallery. The emphasis is removed from the creator and given to the viewer to experience. Based upon trace elements associated with many of the objects used as material for the installation, participants may gain insight into their own lives as they are often very familiar with similar objects. I find joy in giving the items a new role by taking them out of their typical, everyday use and creating new ways to think about each item's purpose. Items thus acquire enhanced
relevance to the audience and subsequently to myself as the artist. Through relinquishing control of the installation to the audience the items evolve and gain amplified meaning and I gain new insight into my role and responsibility as an artist.

Title Page: will include my name as it appears on University records, the title of my thesis, the degree to be awarded, the program, and the date of graduation.

Title: Objects deemed important in a society filled with ordinary things

1) Abstract: The value that society places on objects is examined in relation to the value individuals often place on similar objects. How objects gain significance is examined and considered in contrast to the societal norms placed on similar objects. My recent work is considered in relation to societal norms placed on the collected objects used in my work. The value of my installations which allow the audience to participate more fully than traditional gallery displays is discussed. My contention that art, like all experiences, can be more beneficial and enjoyable when as many of our senses as possible are utilized is a characteristic of each of my installations. The work of other artists who often use found or discarded objects is discussed in relation to my own work. Predominant and evolving roles of gender are briefly discussed in relation to many of the materials with which I have chosen to work. Concepts such as fantasy and its relation to objects and its impact on how objects gain value to certain individuals is discussed. Finally, my own growth as an artist is discussed in relation to the experiences and successes enjoyed in my recent work.


As Americans we live in a world of “stuff”. Some of this stuff becomes significant to us while other items are discarded. As each person finds certain objects of more personal value than others he is often choosing an item that society places no value upon. Does this idea of significant objects make us a selfish, materialistic society? Daniel Miller in “The Comfort of Things” finds just the opposite. Miller did a study of 100 people on a specific street and created a book describing thirty of the people and his findings about their things. He discovered a relationship between people who have sentimental objects and how important their relationships are with the people in their lives and those who have touched their lives.
Artist Jean Shin says, “My work speaks of optimism, inherent in giving new form to life's leftovers.” I, like Shin, am using the notion of giving new life to something old and used. I believe our current economic crisis is also playing a role in the acceptance of trash art. Viewers are appreciating the cleverness of artists who are using something readily available. Trash is everywhere. It litters the city streets, clogs storm drains, and fills up dumps all around the country. And the display of our trash can give important insights on our society and what is happening in our culture today.
I collect the discarded objects from individuals and second hand stores and give them a new life that challenges society’s value often placed upon them. Similar to Daniel Miller, I surveyed approximately thirty people about their wedding dress while I was collecting and unraveling dresses. This allowed me to discuss this object one on one with women and the sentimental value that was placed upon it by each one. I have also collected numerous crochet items from individuals and thrift stores and displayed them as very important and beautiful handmade art objects. This made me realize the lack of significance placed upon these items by society as they were so readily available to me for such a small price.

A. What is a significant object?
They “were, and are, the necessary props defining and describing our stories; displayed, used or hidden, they punctuate our desires and our secrets.” (Monro)
We place a higher emotional value on specific objects. These items are personal to the owner and often have little to no meaning to anyone else. They become important because of prior relationships with the previous owner or between the new owner and the giver of the item.

I suggest the Latour – Anthropology of the Object text and add it thru out this intro section. **I have only found this in a video of his lecture which is very hard to understand due to the language barrier. I contacted the person who posted it and he says there is not a text of this. I contacted the AIB library as well and she was not able to find a text of it.

B. How does an object achieve significance?
It is a common discovery when searching for answers to the importance of our things, that the objects almost always are important because of the relationship to the person with whom it was from or with a memory that we have attached to the item. Therefore, creating a memory or a comforting emotion when the object is viewed or touched.

C. Objects after death
Because objects after death are connected to a loved one, no longer here, the objects themselves may become of greater importance to those left behind. The relationship with the loved one now becomes a relationship with the object representing the loved one.
The living family members may be unable to let go of an object because to do so
may feel as though they are willingly letting go of the person to which it is

Objects that were once insignificant become very significant. (At my grandparents recent estate sale, my aunt cried the most as she laid my grandfathers overalls out to sell; an item that at one time was meaningless. FN) There are objects that remind us of travels or holidays or a hobby that our loved one once enjoyed. These items become precious to us. Much thought and consideration is often given to who should take what objects. (I was given the sewing box of my grandmother and great grandmother because of my love for sewing. My uncle received the guns as he loves to hunt FN). Objects therefore gain value as an “extension” of the loved one who is now gone.

Trash Becomes Art
Giving objects a new life and restored purpose.
Narratives of Significant Objects and how objects are used by artists

Anne Hamilton
Her installations take us to a place that questions our memory, reason and imagination. She very often has someone “work” at the installation throughout the span of the show doing specific task such as erasing or burning words from a book in works such as Tropos and Malediction.
Hamilton relies on the senses as much as the visual aspect of her work. She wants the viewer to be more engaged in the work or at least to see someone else engaged. Much of the material used in her work is from collections of everyday objects.

Cornelia Parker
Her work is driven by consumerism, globalization and the role of the mass media in contemporary life. She creates many site specific works that are for a single time and place. She creates work that contains the volatile and makes it into something that is quiet and contemplative. Parker is able to take the most ordinary objects and make something compelling. “I resurrect things that have been killed off... My work is all about the potential of materials - even when it looks like they've lost all possibilities.”-Parker
In Parker's pieces; Cold Dark Matter: an Exploded View and Hanging Fire Suspected Arson she was able to take items and suspend them from the ceiling to recreate what was left. She used her space and with proper lighting was able to create shadows of the work to make the pieces much more powerful.
Hamilton, Parker and my work use items that are re-purposed; items that are given new life and meaning. As I took objects like wedding dresses, I destroyed them to create something new. I worked with destroyed materials in a completely different way than Parker but with the same idea of making something new from what one might see as ruined material. While I created with my own destroyed materials and Parker found the destruction our final outcome was very similar. Parker’s materials are no longer useful to the average person but she sees beauty in them. I find beauty in destroying the wedding dress and creating a much more personally meaningful item. However, I found that most women found the dress to be extremely important and hold significant value. This idea about the wedding dress seems to be the societal norm.

Jean Shin
Artist Jean Shin takes cast off materials to create engaging art installations. She says her “work speaks of the optimism inherent in giving new form to life’s leftovers“. Sometimes the cast offs are altered such as her Everyday Monuments installation where she took donated trophies and altered the original award to make it more for the everyday person and sometimes they are simply showed in a way of creating community between the objects like in her Chance City where she used thousands of dollars worth of discarded lottery tickets to create a city like sculpture. Susan Stamberg of National Public Radio did an interview with Shin and curator Joanna Marsh in 2009 just before her show opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. When answering the question “Why is Shin’s work considered art?”, Marsh states that in Shin’s hands she gives the objects a new life and restored purpose; she ask us to look at them in a completely new way. Shin sees herself as a conceptualist artist; thinking about the ideas that are meaningful to us. Using trash as art is becoming a powerful aesthetic, full of new ideas.

Jac Leirner
Brazillian artist Jac Jac Leirner creates sculptures and installations using everyday objects and collections which have been hoarded by the artist for years at a time ( Her accumulations are most often items deemed insignificant or lacking value such as bags, cigarette boxes, airline boarding passes, and many more. Her work has been compared to many historical contexts from minimalism to Pop’s use of both advertising and the everyday object. Leirner’s choice of materials or collections are personal yet they also reflect common experiences among people and their possessions. They are items that many people have and can relate to such as a business card or plastic shopping bag.

Mike Kelly
In his body of work is a large and amusing "painting-esque" wall-hanging made up entirely of homemade dolls, stuffed animals, pillows, and afghans which Kelley has rescued from thrift stores and stitched onto canvas. In this wall-hanging--titled More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid--Kelley questions the value and lost-value of these various lovingly-made but discarded soft stuffed items. The age and attention paid to them are evidenced in their stains, their rips and tears, their missing eyes and buttons. Kelley wonders, here, whether all of the "love hours" that went into making these items have been sufficiently, contractually, "repaid." Hence he questions their original sincerity as "gifts" and exposes their hidden reciprocal obligations.

Each of these artists uses objects which have been discarded and deemed worthless by previous owners. Their work, as well as my own work, takes these objects which society has placed little or no value upon and shows that value is still inherent in the objects themselves. My work draws from each of the above artists in that I attempt to show value in objects after society has rejected the items and deemed them worthless. Objects used by Kelly, Leirner, Shin, Hamilton, and especially Parker are viewed by society as having little to no value. Each artist uses the objects as display art in attempts to show beauty, stir emotion, and in general to manifest the latent value in the objects themselves.

Attachment to Objects in Everyday People
What makes us attached to an object?

Lyall Watson revived the term “notional” to describe any inanimate object which demands attention and exercises power over those to whom it appeals. In discussing inanimate objects and their power over humans, he developed a category for religious objects which become idols to individuals and thus exert tremendous influence over the individual. But, why do some objects have this power over their owners and have no power whatsoever over others?
It is common to consider objects as useful, aesthetic, as necessities or vain indulgence. It is less familiar to see these items as emotional necessities. Does this make us superficial, materialistic people? Both research and Sherry Turkle's survey in Evocative Objects indicates that objects, and our infatuation with “stuff” does not indicate that we are selfish, materialistic, or superficial. Nor does it mean that we place more value on intimate objects than on people. Indeed, our love of items indicates our love of the person or human event we associate with the material. We love our objects because of the people who gave them to us or from a memory associated with a certain person in relation to the object.

Survey answers of numerous people

To determine the realistic idea of the norm of the society in which I live, I questioned approximately thirty people, with an informal survey, as to whether or not they had a specific inanimate object that held a sentimental value greater than their other objects. One older lady still has her childhood doll which she says reminds her of a much simpler and happy time in her life. Another stated that her most important object is a small scrap of paper that was in the box with her engagement ring and allows for a special memory of a once in a lifetime event. Others treasure objects passed down through generations of family members.
I received a response from about twenty participants and no matter the gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age or profession; everyone had at least one object. These objects also held elaborate stories of the objects existence. They were then asked: “Why is this object more important than any other object?” “How did you get it?” “What relationship do/did you have with the person with whom it is connected?”
Our culture agrees that certain items hold significant value such as family heirlooms, childhood toys, cremains, and travel souvenirs. What may not be as obvious is how the objects are almost always connected to a person who is, or at one time was, particularly important to the owner. A common theme throughout the survey responses was that each individual has placed value on the objects because of the relationship of the inanimate object to a living or animate being.

Significant objects in my work
Wedding Dress
My recent work consists of five unraveled wedding dresses that were formed into cocoons and my wedding dress that was unraveled and suspended from the ceiling. The dresses were donated by friends, co-workers, high school classmates and complete strangers with the understanding that the dress would be unraveled and used in a project to portray the unraveling of marriages. The materials used in the project were very important to me and the important meaning of the project could not happen without the proper materials. However, I found it very difficult to discuss the project with anyone who had not experienced the type of marriage that I had; specifically men. I could not explain the project to even close male friends without becoming very nervous. Was this caused by fear of acceptance? Most likely it was, or the realization that there was no way that he could understand the depth of what was happening in the project. Judy Chicago once stated ““It has always seemed obvious to me that, given such realities as birth, lactation, and maternity, not to mention vulnerability to sexual abuse, there are certain experiences that are unique to women.” These experiences are what she hoped to bring into the art dialogue openly as she started the Feminist Movement in the 1970's. (Chicago, 26) Chicago also believes that feminism promotes personal empowerment, something that can also come from material choice.
While an unraveling event occurred at a local gallery, several women sat ripping and unraveling wedding dresses in a circle. Passersby would stop and watch; the women would smile and the men would look very confused , but both were looks of amazement as we sat in giant piles of tulle and silky pieces of once very important dresses. I knew in my heart that many of the women would have loved to join us. I chose the used wedding dresses as my material for the project because the obvious trace attached to each one, attached meaning and because I prefer to create with soft, fiber materials.
All of the objects chosen for my recent work contain significant trace elements related to the individuals associated with the items. The trace of the memory or the individuals associated with the objects remains in the objects themselves. Women are often unable to part with their wedding dress and most often have an attachment to the day in which it was worn. An inanimate object comes to represent not only the wedding, but also the entire marriage. Those I received were usually from failed marriages or from widows who have moved on with their lives, while many who are happily married find it obscene to think about allowing their wedding dress to be destroyed. Whether from failed marriages or successful marriages, the trace remains with the wedding dress. From my survey and research I contend that many people place more value and importance on the wedding than upon the marriage. Throughout childhood little girls are taught that after the wedding “they live happily ever after.” The dress remains as a symbol of the fairy tale long after the wedding is over.
My work with the wedding dress questions the importance placed on the object. I take the role that our society has placed on this dress and reverse it by destroying the precious object and the trace associated with it and creating something new.

After the wedding dress, a new home is created. Whether a new home from a marriage, a divorce, a death; whatever the situation a new home must be established. This led to my next work creating a crochet home.

Handmade Objects: Crochet
I started collecting from an interest in crochet; how it is created and the numerous amount of crochet items that I was finding discarded. I was drawn to the colors and patterns and overly intrigued by the items that were being made from crochet i.e. Tabasco hot sauce jar cover, toilet seat cover, corn on the cob cover, etc. My collection consists of over 75 Afghans, 100 small pieces, 10 sculptures and one tent. An overwhelming amount of hand work was put into the objects and yet most all of it was discarded by the hands that made it or by family members. Traces of all the work and time associated with the items remain. I did not want to harm any of the objects by cutting them or destroying them. I wanted to find a way to give them new value and meaning; suddenly make them precious instead of trash. The softness, color, and traces of the loving hands that created them reminded me of the security of a childhood home.
In my installation, using the crochet, I am questioning the idea of home and the safety within. Home is a place where we feel safe and secure in the presence of our belongings. Our homes are invested with our passions and personalities. We remember our childhood homes, however happy, sad, nostalgic, or painful that they were. We create relationships with our homes that reflect the chapters of our lives and the home becomes filled with the things we adore. Our homes, no matter how full, have meaningful items from our lives. When we close the door to our home we hope to feel safe; a place where we can shut out the world, hide out or to soothe. I created a place/space of safety using significant objects created by someone’s hands. A place that makes you think of childhood and the carefree safety and security that we experienced. I am doing this by creating a fantastical place where one can become entranced in the shapes, colors and textures. From large, round, crochet objects hanging from above to small pockets of mystery on the wall; this is an experience of childhood memories and adult fantasies which can be very much the same to me. The fantasy is that we can have a safe, colorful, fun, fiber-filled world to live in. The reality is that this can never be more than a fantasy if we are to move on and grow as individuals we must accept life as it is. The installation is a contrast between the ideal and the real.

IV) Collecting
Collecting is a power of ownership. From the 16th through the 19th centuries there were dignified collectors who searched the world for fossils, shells, zoological specimens, works of art, books and most any interesting object. Their findings were then kept in special rooms, “cabinets of curiosities or Wunderkammers” ,for safekeeping and private viewing (McKinley). This tradition was a symbolic display of the collector’s power and wealth. What was found in the collector's cabinet of personal collections determined his or her place in a hierarchy. The larger the collection, and the more rare the objects, the higher the person was in society. In the mid 19th century, many societies became obsessed with the museum and each small town had one to display their found objects to show their value (McKinley). (FN this paragraph)
Most who study how people collect believe it begins during childhood. (Psychoanalyst Werner Muensterberger believes that collecting fulfills a need brought on by the frustrations of early childhood and that the objects involved in collecting comfort this need. FN) For example, if a child is left alone in the dark the last toy given to him is a form of comfort and two would be even better. So begins the collecting process. At an early age, collecting is also a way to take control of something. The collector is in control of his/her objects. Susan Pearce, writer of seven books about the process of collecting, believes collecting is psychological. She believes an individual may collect things in order to create his/her own identity. As a person grows older, he often collects things from the past that have relevance to him. These objects may be from his past or from another person's past that is believed to have personal significance (Bodmer). (Collections gain emotional value in things from the beginning of collecting at childhood through adulthood. FN) The value of the objects to the collector is associated to his own identity with the items. Many years later the objects may actually hold increased monetary value, however, this is not related to the significant value of any item.
(Collecting is a constant process of hunting for the fraction to create the whole. FN)

VI) Gender Roles
A preconceived notion occurs through out history that women and men have specific roles in the home. Women are to be domestic and men the “bread winner”. In the past, when this idea was much more prominent, the same idea filtered through to the art world. FN. You should develop this into a more substantive argument. These statements are very weak.

As these ideas are changing in most parts of our country, are they changing in the art world as well? If you are going to make statements like this, you need to give short examples.

As a feminist artist and strong believer that any woman can do whatever she desires, I believe that we are changing history by accepting and allowing men and women to be equally represented in the art world thus allowing either gender to use any material of his/her choice. (However, most of my findings have led me to notions that men are taking a much more domestic role and women are continuing to create across the board. FN) Therefore, the strong feminist movement still happening today with groups such as the Guerrilla Girls, a collection of radical, left-leaning pop artists, famed for wearing gorilla masks and fishnets to highlight sexism, racism, and other pillars of injustice (Adams), is not only influencing women but also men.

Tracey Emin is a popular feminist artist practicing today. Emin has become known for taking personal issues that are universal and forming them into a genuine expression of human emotion. She exposes herself in a very direct manner that is often tragic and/or humorous. Singer Madonna says, “Tracey is intelligent and wounded and not afraid to expose herself, she is provocative but she has something to say. I can relate to that” (McKenzie).
Her work often has a sexually provocative attitude that firmly puts her in with the tradition of feminist discourse. In Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With, Emin used the process of appliqué to inscribe the names of lovers, friends and family, including her aborted twins, that she had slept with on a small, blue tent.
Like Emin, I use personal issues such as concerns of home and safety as well as marriage and question them in my work. Emin has a way of putting the issue in your face where my work is more subtle. Her use of words and story in her art allows the viewer to be certain about her meaning. I like for the viewer to be able to obtain their own meaning, memory and experiences when viewing my installations.

VII) Fantasy and Objects
Melanie Klein: Play technique
Melanie Klein was an extremely influential Austrian psychologist who developed many therapeutic techniques that have had a tremendous impact on child rearing and therapy. The concept of object relations stating that even infants project themselves or parts of themselves upon other objects was advanced by psychoanalyst Melanie Klein and built upon by D. W. Winnicott. Klein developed the technique of play therapy whereby through the use of play and drawings infants project their feelings onto analysts and the analysts are then able to understand anxieties the child is having which could hinder proper transition to the next level of emotional development. This concept was based on the idea that individuals from earliest infancy are able to associate objects to themselves. These concepts provide a solid foundation for understanding the usefulness provided by the attachment of meaningful fantasy upon objects and using art to help individuals realize their true self. These concepts deal with the attachment of fantasy to objects that become beneficial to a child's transition from one state of emotional development to another higher level of development. In other words, if an individual failed to properly transition from one emotional stage to another during childhood, art could possibly be beneficial to the individual in helping her or him to move to the appropriate level of development. Both Klein and Winnicott view the mother's primary role as that of allowing the child to use the mother for the child's benefit as the child transitions from one developmental stage to the next higher stage. Objects in their immediate environment are viewed as items upon which fantasy concepts may be attached, thereby promoting successful transitions from one stage of psychological development to another. They assert that mothers who are not "good enough" hinder children's progress through the needed stages of development and lead to those children becoming individuals who often require therapy later in life (Robbins).

D.W. Winnicott: “Good Enough” mother to find “true self”
Winnicott is well known for his work on primitive emotional development of young children and how that development relates to the adaptations in the early life of all individuals. His theories describe circumstances whereby children use object fantasy in order to move emotionally from the level of fantasy to that of reality. He saw the area between reality and fantasy as necessary not only in child development but also in adult mental health, specifically in locating what he called “true self” (Rodman 265). He believed that if the space in between is not experienced then a false self is created. According to Winnicott, objects give infants some control at a time in life when they have little control over anything else (Rodman 399).
Object Fantasy in my work
Based upon the concepts of Klein and Winnicott, my work and its focus on traces left upon objects by former owners may help individuals to move to their next level of emotional development. It is my conviction that emotional growth requires that we not remain bound to objects with traces that represent past experiences. Objects of art can be manipulated by individuals whereby they attach fantasies that allow them to improve the realization of their true and current selves.
My work owes much to earlier work by Klein and Winnicott and their theories of fantasy attachment to objects, i.e. attachment of fantasy to objects such as wedding gowns, teddy bears, concepts of home, etc. Connotations (often unconsciously) associated with such objects are developed almost exclusively in the minds of individuals through the phenomena of fantasy. For example, most women find their wedding dress to be a sacred like object giving it extreme value often preserving it in a special box to keep forever. This allows the women to hold on to the moment in which they were wearing the dress. This “holding on” provides for a static state and prevents that individual from moving on to the next stage of emotional development.
The insights gained from Klein and Winnicott help us to understand how our fantasy of an attachment to an object creates our “true self” by finding the in between place from reality and fantasy. These notions of attachments to fantasy objects are important to a child’s evolution from one level of development to the next. Only when we move from fantasy to reality can we truly gain an understanding of our true self.
My installations are that place between fantasy and reality. The reality of the material and the idea of living in a fantastical place such as a crochet room and how this feels safe and secure.

Neil Gaiman (Mirror Mask) Movie
Childhood fantasy as escape

8. Conclusion:
Objects are of importance only to the degree that individuals give them value. Traces of significant individuals or events that have touched lives result it people giving value to objects. The value given is an extension of the individuals or events and is only superficially related to the objects themselves. Without those traces the objects have no value assigned to them. People may also attach value to objects due to an emotional need within the individuals themselves. Objects may be used in art installations to help the audience to understand that no true value resides in the objects, but in the traces placed within the objects by the audience themselves. Members of the audience place fantasy attachments upon the objects based upon their individual memories and imaginations and therefore each member experiences the installation in a different manner and to differing degrees; in this way it becomes their installation.