Sunday, July 8, 2012

Collections

Over the years we have collected tons of plastic from 1000 yards of one beach - plastic that is evidence of our shared mania for toss-away ease. We've been strangely attracted to this stuff from beautifully patina-ed shards to colorful toys carrying stories of our cultural past. The two of us have become highly competitive creating hierarchies of distinction ”—difficulty of finding, rarity—in our “cabinet of wonders.”



Some collections have intrinsic market value—silver coins from Imperial Rome, hand-tinted illustrated books from the 19th Century. Some collections have great value for the very continuation of biodiversity—in seed-banks containing the “germ plasm” of life. In prehistory, collecting a bit of native gold or a stone of azure lapis found in a stream elevated status propelling one’s genes with advantageous mating.



A branch of semiotics traces the steps of an object as it moves from being just one more “something” into something useful then into something of great value. How does a chipped chunk of pebble picked out of the welter of stones in East Africa, identified as “the earliest tool known” end up as priceless evidence in a glass case in the museum of human development? How do the skeins of of oil paint smeared onto canvas by Jackson Pollock sell for $140 million dollars?

All collections gain value by telling a story. Whether it is the data collection in a birder’s “life list” packed with the experience of “been there, seen that”—or a fossil collection telling tales from the Earth’s book of life—the deeper the story, the greater the value.

Strange and enticing, our collection not only holds our interest, it tells a vivid story of consumer culture and life and times in the 21st Century.

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