I feel compelled to write this because of my sheer disbelief that anyone could be so forthcoming and honest with me. After having travelled home for a long weekend, mum and I decided to have a day out in Canterbury, which is a delightful little city. Enchanting really. We were lucky enough to visit all the sites, one of which happened to be the Open Library and Public Museum. We dove in quickly to refuge from the biting chill of the crisp, sunny February day.
In the front room, I met a lovely man called Bob; significantly older than myself, who proceeded to indulge me in regaling his tale of how his magnificent little art installation came to be.
It’s as if I had stepped through into a beach-comber’s paradise. Scratch that; I had stepped into a beach-comber’s paradise. The walls were choc-a-block full of trinkets and dolls and shells and rocks, feathers, stones, etc, all of which told a quaint melancholy kind of story.
But it was the man’s description of one particular piece; ‘The Towers of Bolderaja’ that he had built. I was fascinated by this little grid of epitaphs and plinths with modelled dedications of all the little things he enjoyed. Some crafted from clay, others precious stones, metals and plastics; brought together to form a conglomeration of everyday gods and totems which meant both nothing and everything to him. There were not little stories for these; more an overarching dialogue for the lilliput-like land he had created. Crouching down to view these wooden columns from below, I saw it both though a child’s eyes and his, as he described to me his world on maps and graphs and drawings.
Suddenly I realised that my inherent distaste for some types of contemporary art dissipated quickly when I saw this sweet man tear up with pride and sorrow that it couldn’t ever be more than what it was; a local art piece sitting on a coffee table.
Children walked past it to look at the pretty colours and trinkets, adults seemed to glaze over in distaste. True, at first glance the piece was uninthralling and crass, but upon close inspection it was obvious that this man had crafted these totems which unintentionally resembled so much art and architecture and culture throughout history. Small parts, like Bernini’s Columns, a little ceramic Shabti from ancient Egypt, fools gold from america, a carved stone from the beach at dunkirk, all sorts of things.
Though I wouldn’t be particularly happy to install a piece such as his in my house; it did renew my faith in certain types of artisic expression, and how the role and importance of adding personal history when constructing art is nowadays intrinsically linked with our culture. It’s true that I can look at Tracy Emin’s unmade bed (or a piece of similar nature in the Centre Pompidou, say) and grimace at it in respect to the old masters; but next time my face goes wry and pale at a bunch of ceramic seeds, or an upside-down shopping cart in a gallery some place pretentious, I’ll think back to how that sweet-natured man made me feel about his art – and possibly understand a little bit more why such things are in the Gugenheim.
Some initial impressions of the collection: melancholy, intricacy, nostalgia, distance – overall perhaps it reflected the overall title of the collection?
You can see this collection by Holder and Lamoon – Artists in residence at The Beaney (Canterbury) ‘The Essence of Memory: A Distillation of Thought’.
Or visit Bob Lamoon’s website at boblamoon.com