Obsessive Collecting Disorder: The Living Room at Chinese Arts Centre

Mark Slattery
Chinese Arts Centre, A Living Room, Lee Mingwei

Eight hosts share their collections of hidden treasures in the gallery’s latest exhibition.

If the old maxim “Know what you like and like what you know” holds true, then was no way I wasn’t going to like The Living Room at the Chinese Arts Centre. From marbles in the playground to stamps and comic books, collecting has always been a part of my life. If it weren’t for the fear of being recruited for a future episode of Britain’s Biggest Hoarders, I may not be able to keep my OCD (Obsessive Collecting Disorder) in check at all.

Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei, now based in New York uses the exhibition to explore our compulsion to collect. A sofa, coffee table and set of shelves create a simple yet intimate canvas onto which the viewer can “paint” the piece’s art. Over the course of the exhibition, eight hosts share their treasures and, through a little rummaging and friendly conversation, reveal the stories behind them.

The Living Room reveals the art in the everyday objects we cherish

The first host was the delightful Layla Gardner who brought a hodge-podge of old records, photo albums, trinkets and boxes stuffed with letters and newspaper clippings. Having inherited her grandmother’s home and belongings, the collection was a mixture of the two women’s lives. Some represented her own memories, like a photo from an unhappy holiday with an ex, whilst details like the empty spaces in a photo album marked with only a name and a year remembered the passing of her grandmother. Gardner said that living in her grandmother’s home and occasionally wearing her clothes made her to think about the blurring of their two lives. Can being surrounded by so many of someone else’s memories affect our own identity?

As the hosts change over the course of the exhibition, the coming weeks will see pottery fragments from an archaeologist’s back garden, travel memorabilia, an everyday history in postcards, a sewing collection about rhythms and repetition, a knitting group’s woollen creations, “home movie” technology of the past, and a suitcase of objects made with a connection to china. A show-and-tell in your own front room, The Living Room reveals the art in the everyday objects we cherish and, like the good collector I am, I’ll have to go back to see every variation.

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Kamila Shamsie. Photo Alex von Tunzelman

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