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A pilot session for a new series of workshops I will be leading with Claudia Figueiredo beginning in January 2015 (under the whizzy title ARTicles) recently yielded an unexpected question. Unpacking a small suitcase of objects – which relate to my ongoing project Barcelona in a Bag – in front of a group was a richly rewarding experience and plenty of fun. The sessions are designed to facilitate conversation and participation for a group of elderly people in an area of high social deprivation. Over a period time we will aim to build trust, ignite interest and enable hands on making.

The lightest of touches was required I felt in the ‘getting to know’ each other through our objects and my feeling (and I suppose thus my approach to the group) was rewarded with a great deal of banter through which some striking themes emerged. So many of the objects selected by participants to bring to their first session were those treasured and kept on mantelpieces. Many objects related to family members, women seemed to focus on grandmothers and men on their uncles. More common themes will no doubt emerge.

The most telling aspect of this group is that of pre-established connection. They are all members of a church community and the level of confidence in one another seemed high. Later I wondered if the nurture these people received through their church community ‘family’ enabled them to play so creatively (indulging in high jinks in some cases) with the objects provided. Self-consciousness wasn’t an issue.

The question most eloquently and gently put, after much unpacking and explanation on my part of the origin and significance of my objects, was genuine. What is the difference between what you do and a hoarder?

My response went something like this:

We might think of a hoarder as someone who collects objects and can’t throw them away. I’m quite good at throwing things away and while there are some irreplaceable things I could never get rid of, my philosophy is that life takes things from us in every sense – including our lost objects. It’s what we do with the objects that remain with us that interests me. But yes, one of the very important techniques in my work is to find replacements (usually approximations) for lost objects too – so this does mean I acquire a lot of stuff.

A hoarder might be someone who is limited by their objects, certainly the cases we see on TV are of people whose houses are crammed full of objects to the point that they literally can’t move around freely. Perhaps they don’t do much with their objects and perhaps the acquisition of new objects isn’t so considered? I could be wrong of course.

Some people might see me as a hoarder but for me the act of collecting and arranging objects is for a very specific purpose – to create new works and tell a story. Objects also lead my research and spur me on. It is true that my tiny studio could do with being bigger and needs more storage capacity.

Perhaps there are elements of the hoarder in the object artist? I wonder what others think!