Mark Dion’s piece, Tate Thames Dig 1999 features a variety of objects, including clay pipes, animal bones, pottery, bottle caps and toys organized in a double-sided cabinet by type rather than historical date. (Mark Dion, Thames Digg, 2004) His work gives viewers the opportunity to question the authority of the museum and consider how and why certain objects are grouped and displayed. It brings attention to how museum curators, through their categorization of artifacts, influence the way visitors interpret the meaning and value of objects. This piece reminded me of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. A peculiar, inviting building with low lighting, its exhibits feature curiosities and strange artifacts with long informative texts. A show on medical cures displayed Mice on Toast alongside Lithium, both accompanied by seemingly serious yet hardly believable information. Yet everything written about lithium was accurate. Blurring the lines between performance art and museum, it underscores “the fragility of our beliefs,” teaching us as much about our misplaced trust in museum authority as the human capacity for imagination. (Blitz)
My work relates to this piece because we both use a displayed collection as a means to feign authority over the history of the objects. I paint and arrange inherited objects from my mother's family and my own thrifted purchases in order to tell an invented story. It would seem that I, as a member of the family, would be a source of authority on my own history, yet my grouping of this collection is not informed by historical knowledge, but my own decisions and interpretations.
Blitz, M. (no date) Inside Los Angeles’s Strangest Museum, Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/inside-las-strangest-museum-180954803/ (Accessed: 26 April 2023).
Mark Dion, Thames Dig (1999). [Wall Text]. Tate Modern, London. 2004.
Mark Dion, Thames Dig 1999
John Soane's Museum and Leighton House
The John Soane’s Museum is the preserved home of architect John Soane. In it, is displayed his vast collection of artifacts and objects. The apparent chaos of the space was actually artfully arranged by the architect to “enhance the objects’ poetic qualities.” (Our History, 2015) The space is dark, feels heavy and intense, and I cannot help but wonder what it would have been like living amongst such a press of physically imposing objects. It was hard to focus on just one thing, putting them all together made the sum greater than its individual parts. I thought about the preserved home as a means of displaying a collection and found it an interesting contrast to Leighton House, where the bright colors and maximalist mix of cultures and styles enticed me, encouraging close looking and inspection. However, from what is known of Leighton, his inviting and alluring home may have been a way to distract anyone from actually getting to know him, something even his close friends said was impossible (Webb, 2023).
Thinking about these two homes with displayed collections, and the motivations of their curators, I consider what I am doing with my own work. Am I encouraging investigation, erecting a wall, or perhaps both? The quantity and monochrome might make it seem like I am trying to overwhelm rather than pull the viewer in. Yet the details and ornate quality of the items, the jeweled ones in particular, have an alluring quality. I realize I need to reflect on what message I want to send, and think about how decisions surrounding display will affect that language.
Our History (2015). Available at: https://www.soane.org/about/our-history (Accessed: 10 May 2023).
Webb, G. (2023) ‘Discover Leighton House’. Leighton House, 2 March.
John Soane's Museum
Helen Bermingham makes visually abstract work that deals with memory and its link to mark making in painting. When reading about her practice I came across a quote that resonated with me: “I’m interested in the idea that every time I repeat a mark it changes- much like each time you recall a memory it changes.” This facet of the copy, the way something can be corrupted the more it is duplicated, reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s assertion that photographic reproductions destroy the aura of an original artwork by removing the unique experience of viewing it in person (Benjamin, 1968). In a world where we have constant access to photographs, something meant to represent a ‘true’ event (Barthes, 1981), it becomes difficult to decipher a true memory from the memory of remembering.
I personally find the more I revisit a photograph, the further I feel from the sensations of the event it depicts. I know this by the feeling I get seeing an old photograph for the first time. There is an indescribable feeling of closeness, an unlocking of something hidden is triggered by a fresh viewing. Whereas when I revisit an image many times, it seems I recall the last time I saw the picture as much as, if not more, than the original captured occasion. In moments of encountering the past through pictures, the present seeps in and corrupts. If the last time I looked at a photo, I was sad, or excited, those emotions attach themselves to my act of remembering and forever tweak the archive in my mind. In my work, repainting the same object, then obliterating it, is like the over-writing of memories so often revisited there is nothing left of the original moment in time.
Barthes, R. (1981) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Benjamin, W. (1968) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. HMH, pp. 217–252.
Helen Bermingham's work in studio
For more context, influences and research, please look at my additional content page, where you will find my additional contexts PDF, or click the link below.