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the signal house
The Hour Between Dog and Wolf
November 9, 2021
notes on coming out
a conversation with my son as he turns sixteen
the golden light
a luz dourada
Documenta Barbrism and Dingle Mary
Mary Jean Chan
contributing artists - Jo Morris Dixon, woah_vv
What distinguishes a collector from a hoarder?
A recent visit to the Bread and Puppet Museum, a self-described ‘massive accumulation of the puppets, masks, paintings and graphics of the Bread and Puppet Theater, housed in a 150- year-old barn in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom’, has me thinking about this.
The 2015 Barbican exhibit Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector crystallized the common view of collecting as the pleasing, idiosyncratic labor of aesthetes, fan cultures, and museums. Hoarding, though, as any number of reality shows attest, is seen as collecting’s dark antipode, a signifier of the rotten excesses of late capitalism. Each proposition acknowledges that stuff is going to accrete, but suggests it’s what you do with the stuff that marks you as enthusiast or persona non grata.
In ‘Unpacking My Library’, a characteristically ambiguous and self-conscious excavation of his book collection, Walter Benjamin teaches that the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ accumulation might not be as clear as we think: ‘For what else is (a) collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order’?…(F)or a true collector the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object’.
The word ‘true’ does a lot of heavy lifting here, at once justifying Benjamin’s own collecting obsession and implying that there is a wrong or false type of collector. He doesn’t explain what such a pariah might look like, but it seems unlikely that Benjamin would read a ‘magic encyclopedia’ onto the cat-skeleton-and-expired-dairy-product topography of a home on the TV show Britain’s Biggest Hoarders. Yet, people who hoard can arguably find order in chaos as well as any collector, and magic in the rattiest old children’s blanket, which means we are no closer to an answer.
So, a guess: if there is a correct or good way to amass a life’s ephemera, maybe the key ingredient is style. I think of the setting of Azazel Jacobs’ 2008 film Momma’s Man, where the man child protagonist returns to the real-life home of Jacobs’ artist parents. The overstuffed Manhattan loft is such a welcoming cocoon that the man refuses to leave. Years after seeing the film, I remembered nothing of the plot but much about the carefully carved pathways connecting precarious floor-to-ceiling canyons of junk.
Or the Bread and Puppet Museum in Vermont. In true rural/radical fashion, the museum is not closely vigilated; they simply ask that you ‘open the door and turn on the lights when you arrive, and close the door and turn out the lights when you leave’. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces on display in the museum, but the muchness serves a purpose, described on its website: ‘its population density is an expression not only of the accumulations of time but of the urgencies which inspired the making of so much stuff: the poverty of the poor, the arrogance of the war-mongers, the despair of the victims, and maybe even stronger than that, the glory of this whole god-given world. And naturally, all this will decay in due course’. Awe has been in short supply for the last 18 months, yet there was plenty to go around in that drafty barn. The historical heaviness felt was that of a weighted blanket, not a millstone.
I am pleased to add the works in this issue of The Signal House Edition to our collection. I hope they bring some light to your day, and that you find them stylish and edifying enough to add to your own collection, whatever form that takes.
Just close the door and turn out the lights when you leave.
-Documenta Barbrism, Guest Editor
Dutch-born PATRICIA PALUDANUS lives and works in Amsterdam. However, it might be closer to the truth to say she actually resides in the topography of her drawings, which have their genesis in the unspoken dreams and mindscapes of her imagination. Yet, far from being a hermit, she invites us, the viewer, to enter these intimate spaces and explore worlds where nothing is as it seems. Having rediscovered the colored pencil after working in various media, Paludanus uses it in a curious way, applying almost pulsating combinations of pigment in thick, dense layers that leave no strokes visible and turn the paper surface into a leather-like skin. She has exhibited her drawings both in the Netherlands and internationally, most recently at the BDDW gallery in New York City. WEBSITE. INSTAGRAM.
(Image credit: The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, by kind permission of the artist.)