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dipoloma thesis baccelor - Eva Kaufmann

faculty of design and arts
T I T L E :
"Collecting, a passion"

"Sammeln, eine Leidenschaft"
"Collezionare, una passione"

Curating professors -
Andrea Maragno (Joe Velluto) & Paul Thuile

To collect – Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

" get things of the same type from different places and bring them together; to get and keep objects of the same type because you think they are attractive or interesting."

In my diploma thesis I would like to attempt/hazard a look at the curious and fascinating world of collecting and start by spending time on, delving into, wondering at, while also placing under close scrutiny a variety of collections:

Why do people collect things and how long have they been doing it? What do people collect (in the past/nowadays)? Who collects what and why? How are things collected? What orders the chaos and how are things sorted out? How do collections increase in value? And where is the beauty in collections? How complete is the incomplete? Great outward forms in an orchestrated collective?
And what do individual objects tell us? What is their history? How do we gain access to these things and their history? (…)

A variety of fascinating questions and a whole world opens up: from historical ‘Wunderkammers’ to the countless libraries in the world, examples of stockpiling, seed collections (e.g. of all the cultivated plants in the world), collections of recyclable and waste materials, clothes and toy collections, all kinds of information pools, databases in virtual format (such as iCloud), up to curious and artistic private collections, from instances of compulsive hoarding to the priceless.

I would like to set my focus, whether on people, or on objects and their overall aesthetic, as a visible complex; my own experience of collecting and internalizing, in a quest for utilisation and creative assistance in the cultural context.

(not) a collector

Eva Kaufmann Student and designer at the Faculty for Design & Art, BOLZANO / BOZEN


Whether I am a collector?
No. I am not a collector. I own neither a garage full of vintage cars, nor an album containing carefully selected stamps, nor can I volunteer a collection of reading glasses or records; a few corks are stacked precariously above my kitchen sink just waiting to fall down, but can you call that a collection? I am the owner of more than one book, it’s true, but does this mean that I own a book collection?

So, what is collecting?
Collecting is an (individualistic) act of accumulating things or information of the same kind and class, type or other common feature. Collecting takes place – not always, as it is also completely institutionalized, nevertheless often – in a very intimate sphere, or, if desired, within a circle of insiders; typical of collecting is the setting up of a special system or logic, which forms the basis for the cohesion of the grouped items with their indexing not exactly accessible for outsiders at times (without explanations). Therefore a creative act is always inherent in collecting: this process consists of searching for, finding, selecting, purchasing, transporting, accumulating, sorting (…) and merges into the act of preparation: objects are repaired, restored, returned to their original state; transformed into a completely new (artistic) object during artistic handling. Classification systems to sort, break down or present the collections are created or adapted.

Of course, classic collections exist on a large scale, as we know from historical ‘Wunderkammers’, museums, famous collections and libraries. They take on a not insignificant function thanks to their cultural (…) input.

However, in my work I am particularly interested in the individual and creative aspect of the individual collector, and the question concerning the relationship between people and their possessions. How does this relationship come about and what for? What is the meaning in it? What is collecting actually all about? Why do people collect in the first place? The figure of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ who used to be entrusted with procuring food and hoarding it springs to mind; there can be no doubt that we have moved on from this type of society today and collecting has (at least in industrialised countries) become an idealistic pastime.

Nevertheless, the question as to what constitutes the driving force behind collecting is a valid one. Is it the attainment of recognition from others when we present a detailed and informative collection, is it the desire to leave behind traces of our existence, or is it about satisfying needs and drives, accumulating something, hoarding, owning, being the sole ‘master’ or ‘mistress’ of these objects; or perhaps an unconscious act of (psychological) compensation due to the lack (…) of something in our childhood or youth? Does collecting not also create a community in a world where people are fighting against isolation and is this activity not often akin to the satisfying of a desire that appears almost instinctive, like a sportsperson seeking victory in a contest at any price? And is it not also just as much about acquiring knowledge in order to stand out in a very specific discipline with our detailed knowledge, or simply about getting to the bottom of the history of objects? There is a little of all these aspects in every collection, in varying doses and never having quite the same character.

And yet there‘s more: for a collection of things which may be seen, smelled and touched, involves ‘experiencing’ the world and therefore rendering the world and oneself ‘tangible’ in the truest sense of the word.

Where does the magic of bringing together objects (‘together but unblended’ and the whole is more than the sum of its parts - see Emergenz)? What is the elixir of collecting? Why is it so widespread and why does it produce such wondrous results? What turns a person into a collector? Is it curiosity? A thirst for knowledge? A propensity for the passionate? An inclination to appropriate things? Is it about the spiritual bridge that the collector builds between the past and the present - searching for things today in order to reach the past by  bringing them back to life for the future?

Is it about developing an image? A whole that people try to understand? Or is it about the process of understanding itself; of people’s self-image?

Let us not forget that collecting always involves searching and finding; an imagining, a vague image in the mind as the generator of each search, followed by a selection, decision and consequent preserving and protecting that at some point will have to be given up or handed over.

Is collecting therefore perhaps a rehearsal of the transition from ‘having’ to ‘letting go’? Is it a type of wondrous exercise in a person’s quest for meaning? In objects and beyond?
And what role do order and system then play? Do they reinforce contours in the meticulous categorising and sorting like a type of ongoing attempt at explaining the world? From divine (?) chaos to the human system, the creation of meaning based on a conscious sequence?
And do people not also create relationships through objects; establish references to people and history? Is a collection not always a copying and recording of events too that we try to prevent from being forgotten and therefore preserve, keep, rescue…? With the constant intention of safeguarding our existence, perhaps even legitimising it?

I wonder again if I do in fact collect things. I have to state that, yes, I do. However, my ‘things’ have no definite form, need no substance, and thus can be said to be ‘non-material’. Questioning myself again, I notice that I try to collect ‘truth’, likewise feelings, packaged into recollections and personal history. And so, these ‘secret’ pearls of wisdom that I have discovered for myself over the course of my life in the form of realisations are concealed from others, becoming part of the system of values which governs my behaviour; it feels inaccessible, precious, fleeting, amorphous and secret. A mental collection of precious things.

Hermann Hesse succeeded in describing this excellently by putting the following words into the mouth of Siddharta:
“Words do not express thoughts very well. they always become a little different immediately they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another.”

That is why this collection, which everyone may call their own, is an unexpressed one; it contains values and convictions and is a real treasure, immaterial wealth.
Can this treasure be retrieved? Or is it consciously devoid of form and substance?

Question after question, and yet – or maybe for this exact reason – the quest for the force motivating individual collectors involving visiting their worlds remains extraordinarily exciting.


Thoughts, March - Mai 2013

FINAL: Credit points of the thesis: 110/110 CP

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