Venice / 28.05.2016
IN THE CHAOS OF MEMORIES
Collecting and recollecting
To collect is to rescue, to save from ruin and oblivion. But something also happens with the object when it is collected; it changes. Some aspects of it vanish, while others appear. The original meanings of the object are replaced by new, as soon as it enters the taxonomy of the collection–an order that may be visible to the collector only.
Children, who are the most skilled collectors of all, are well aware of the transformative power of objects. A bottle cap on the pavement is nothing but a piece of worthless junk–until a child finds it, that is. At that moment it turns into something invaluable, a treasure.
The collector might develop an air of oddity, and the urge to collect might be difficult to understand for someone with a more instrumental relation to things. As a result, collectors are easy targets for pejorative and mischievous analyses. Some have labelled collecting as a basically neurotic habit. Others have regarded it as a depraved form of consumerism.
Not surprisingly, Sigmund Freud analysed the collection as a substitute for “a multitude of conquests”, and the (male) collector as “a substitute for a Don Juan Tenorio”. Nevertheless, Freud was a dedicated collector himself. His study and consulting room at Berggasse in Vienna, was stuffed with bronze figures, Egyptian scarabs, funerary urns, coffin-masks, and other ancient pieces, apart from the dreams, slips of the tongue, and jokes that he collected as an archaeologist of the mind.
Walter Benjamin offers a beautiful and non-judgmental reflection on the collector. For him, the collector is a magician; someone who understands the peculiar language of objects: “One has only to watch a collector handle the objects in his glass case. As he holds them in his hands, he seems to be seeing through them into their distant past”. Objects have memories that are released when they rest in the collector’s hands.
The hands are important for Benjamin. He characterizes collectors as “people with tactical instincts”. One has to touch the object in order to really see it, or at least being capable of using one’s eyes as if they were fingertips.
Photo Courtesy @Jose’ Manuel Alorda