Cabinets of Curiosity
In these projects my interrogation of the desire to collect proposes the artwork as a facilitated space where the public has agency to create through choice in a collection activity. My exhibition becomes theirs, as they are invited to break the rules and touch, move, or take away some of components so that an accumulation of broken and discarded household ceramic ware becomes over time a community curated collection.
This inquiry grew out of an artist garden I made for Harbourfront, Toronto (2004-2011). I used shards of floral patterned dishes to create a leaf shaped formal parterre to suggest the garden was a fragment of a larger entity-perhaps a paradise. This part of Toronto was built on landfill including ceramics which often show up on the shoreline. The ceramic patterns -large and small- gave the garden visual interest and allowed it to ‘bloom’ all year, again an attribute of paradise and the hope of the public commission. The garden was successful, but an unforeseen outcome was that the public kept taking the ceramic shards and I was often called to bring more. Why would anyone collect broken dishes?
China Bower, Harbourfront, Toronto, 2004.
I decided to explore this question at Loop Gallery in 2005 on Toronto’s Queen Street, in what was then the gallery district. In preparation for the installation I solicited ceramic discards from friends and family, and bolstered these with leftover box lots from auctions. In several box lots I came across dirty chipped and re-glued ceramic dogs which I added to my thinking. Together they became The Domestic Fealty Collection, created by a unknown collector and studied by a fictitious curator who framed the collection in theoretical terms. Hundreds of people came to the exhibition to spend time sifting through the shards making connections, arranging and rearranging pieces on the large central table and on the shelves lining the gallery. We talked about art and collections. Some told me personal stories. Some wanted to own particular shards. Most bought souvenir cards and told me how much the experience had meant to them.
The Domestic Fealty Collection, souvenir postcards, 2005
In 2019 I was invited to do an installation on the theme of "Ephemera" in the newly acquired Little Station of Critical Mass A Centre for Contemporary Art in Port Hope, Ontario. The former train station seemed a good location to further explore these ideas, this time in a community setting in an historic small town with the building bringing its past as transitional space to the work and with its open windows, providing a glimpse of the changing Spring landscape and again linking the floral imagery on the shards. I wanted to collect stories evoked by the shards, so printed prompts that people could leave in the gallery in a large cracked urn and held tea parties on Saturdays to open the space for conversation ranging from environmental responsibility, to archaeology, gardens, transitions and town history. Volunteers helped members of the public create wearable shard pins as a remembrance. I also built a "Smashing Booth" that added an outdoors midway style performative element to the installation by giving the public a safe way to smash a dish. They were invited to bring their own unwanted ceramic or to choose one from a bin I had collected. They were also free to re-home and save from destruction any dish or shard desired. The reactions to smashing ranged from cathartic to transgressive and led to many more stories about family, loss and collection.