Sunday, 14 July 2013

Reading Group 2.7.13 "A Marginal system: Collecting" by Jean Baudrillard

Present: Maurice Carlin, Jared Szpakowski, Rachel Newsome, Sara Nesteruk, Lauren Velvick.

Text: 'A Marginal System: Collecting' from The System of Objects (1968)

Our text had been suggested by Rachel Goodyear as an accompaniment to her work, and because it would be interesting to discuss in light of work relating to collecting that Jared had presented at a previous crit. Due to having to source our texts on-line for free, we ended up reading two different translations, but Rachel Newsome, who was already familiar with Baudrillard stepped in to outline the key points of the text as she saw them;

- Objects have a use-function and also function as a subject that we project on-to. Objects are "put to use and possessed"*
- Possession and collection is a way of creating order and certainty in life. "Objects in a collection become poetry"*
- Collecting is never about one object; individual objects only make sense in the context of the collection.

Morry wondered: Do objects have a value specific to them?

Rachel thought that according to Baudrillard; no, a collection is acquiring infinite versions of the same object.

The conversation turned to how other types of collection, eg: the collection of a fashion designer, might relate to Baudrillard's conception of the collection. Rachel recounted how one of her favourite designers had admitted to creating a collection as a barrier against the real world. How, too, could this apply to people who create, rather than collect objects, and what difference does it make whether they keep them, or sell them, or give them away?

With our two different translations, we were a little confused as to how to understand the tone of the text, and how it might relate to lived experience, as Rachel articulated; "if you collect you're an idiot, but if you don't you're even more impoverished"*. However, if we consider collecting as a function of the imagination, without a moral dimension - no should, or shouldn't - it makes more sense in every-day terms; "if you weren't allowed to dream you would get ill - if you weren't allowed to collect you would get ill"*.

Morry brought up his mother as an example of somebody who doesn't collect at all, and is completely unsentimental about objects; how does somebody like this fit in to the theory, if they do at all, if collecting is essential to health - can it be more abstract, and could a person collect minimal spaces free of clutter? Or, if collecting stems in part from a fear of death, could religious faith temper the impulse? Rachel brings up the idea of an inherent gap between what we know, and what we don't know, which we all strive to fill in different ways, one of which may be collecting. We considered how objectlessness is generally supposed to infer spirituality, or a zen-like state, prompting a discussion of how Michael Landy's Breakdown had enacted these ideas, with the artist referring to destroying all his objects as a way of "getting rid" of himself.

Rachel raised the issue of the de-materialised collection, perhaps now the most common sort, whether it be mp3's or digital images. These kinds of collections are built around being shared, with the format making it particularly easy to do so, and the lines between identity and object becoming even more blurred than with a more traditional sort of collection. Collecting on-line can also be aspirational and can encompass research, providing readymade collection on sites like pinterest and tumblr. Then, also, the phenomenon of collecting 'likes' or 'views', which missed out the object entirely in it's direct validation, raising the spectre of collecting in it's most fearsome form, as a function of jealousy - what about the effect of collecting on others?

There can be no doubt that the internet has changed the parameters of collecting, we can now carry massive collection around with us - however, even though curating a personality on-line seems like a way to gain ultimate control, the way we think we're presenting ourselves isn't the same as how others understand it, perhaps even intensifying the lack of control and uncertainty that Baudrillard cites as what drives us to collect in the first place.

* All quotes are remembered from the text by the speaker and then remembered by the note taker, so not to be taken as accurate.