While in London last weekend, after visiting the National Gallery and stopping for lunch, I paid a visit to the Found exhibition, curated by Cornelia Parker at the Foundling Museum. I had heard about this exhibition on Radio 4 the week before and my ears had pricked up with interest as lost and found objects feature hugely in my art practice (at least they have of recent years). Currently, I am searching for the lost and abandoned balloons of Britain (and there were some abandoned balloons in this exhibition - read on).
The Foundling Museum itself is a fascinating place, started off as a place for foundling babies of the early 18th century. It was founded in 1739 by Thomas Coram to care for the abandoned children of London. Many of the mothers who left their children at the hospital would leave an object with which to identify themselves with and as a keepsake for their child. They simply couldn't give up the hope that they might be able to return and reclaim their child. These objects are on display in the museum and they are very poignant and also fascinating in their own right for providing a glimpse into the lives of these mostly impoverished 18th-century women.
The Found exhibition itself came about as Cornelia Parker was asked to respond to the museum's collection in some way as part of her role as Hogarth Fellow. She decided to ask artists from all sorts of practices (including music) to lend the museum a found object of theirs for display. The object could be an actual object they themselves had acquired, or an object they were given, or an art work in response to an object. Some of the objects chosen are intangible - such as sound pieces. Some of the submissions were video in response to an object. But most are just things.
What is it about the notion of the 'found' object that excites people's imagination so much? I think it is an innate desire to share a love of something, or a story about something, with others. We feel such joy at the ownership of our rare objects that we feel the need to share that feeling.
The notion of the found object is interesting because even before we acquire the object, it has gathered a history. I believe that objects are full of narrative. They absorb our stories and those stories stay within them, perhaps locked away, for ever. But there is some glimpse of that story we can feel through those objects, that is the 'trace' that Derrida talks about. Once you own an object, you are adding your own narrative to it. Along with that narrative goes emotion. We put emotion into objects and that is where the pull of things comes from. We also use objects as a proxy for our emotions. Perhaps there is something we are not ready to face head on, so we put that into the object. Those strong emotions stay with the object and move on as the object moves on to someone else.
When I see such objects I find it hard not to feel moved. This was certainly the case with the Foundling Hospital foundling objects left by the mothers. They almost screamed with longing and the pain of separation.
To me, the Found exhibition is about the human obsession with recognising something emotional in objects. We all have a part of ourselves that is lost through the things we have become detached from. Those little lost parts of ourselves of us are adopted by the new owners. Generally we connect the idea of emotion with living beings, however, there is a huge amount of emotion in the things around us.
There were many pieces in the exhibition that touched me. I won't go into too much detail here because I hope that anyone reading this will be intrigued enough to go and see the exhibition themselves. My personal highlights were contributions from Christian Marclay (for bottle tops substitute balloons), Guy Turk (bronze casting on a monumental scale), John Smith (my current favourite video artist - I loved his piece), Rachel Whiteread (another bronze casting), Bob and Roberta Smith (creating a story on a found object), Mark Wallinger (found sleeping people), David Shrigley (humour in the lost) and Graeme Miller (another obsessive street collector).
The exhibition is quirky and eclectic and is thought-provoking about the role things play in our lives.
Just before I finish, I need to get something off my chest. Cornelia Parker is a big fat copy cat! One of her 'found' objects was a collection of three balloons.
And afterward, I wondered out into the park in Russell Square and found this. I wonder who lost it?