• Susan Ossman

Collections and Migrations




In response to my last post, Carol asked about my  " non-collector" propensities and wondered " is there then a tension between creating art and then having those artworks in one's life? Or, at least, needing to find a way to move those works on and "out" beyond one's own life?" Definitely something to think about.

Making art that results in objects does lead to  collecting. Although part of my aversion to what I feel is an over accumulation of objects is related to the kinds of hording of commercially produced objects encouraged by meccas of mass consumption like COSTCO  I do also experience a heaviness when I think of the many paintings and other works of art collecting in my closets and garage. When a  brush fire approached my home recently, I wondered if they might be reduced to ashes. I had mixed feelings about that. I have moved very often and most of the few keepsakes that I've managed to keep with me in my travels were stolen from the home where I presently live a few years ago. Maybe it is knowing you can make things anew that is most important. Perhaps this needing to know one has the ability to start again is particularly acute among those of us who have often moved long-distance.

Thinking about the relationship of objects to serial migration led me to revisit a text I wrote some months ago after interviewing Barbara James.  If  the prospect of moving  often  tends to make people wary of acquiring too many objects it can also lead them to prioritize- to make or keep only very special things.   Making a few very special kinds of things can  be a way of weaving a moving ground of the materials of several homelands.                                                              _____________________________________________________

When I entered Barbara and Stephen’s California bungalow, I was surprised to find their home chock-full of furniture, do-dads, throw rugs and prints of well-known artists. Their moves to places as diverse as Vietnam, the Philippines, The USA, Uzbekistan, England and Germany did not include the kinds of social and economic continuities offered to employees of large companies, the military or the diplomatic corps. I knew they could not afford to move the contents of an entire home around the world- so this ranch home with its beige expanses of capacious furniture was out of sync with what I knew about their life and the proclivities of serial migrants generally. They explained that Steven’s employer provided this over-full house near the freeway during his 12 month-long consultancy; this was not their stuff. Or so it seemed. As I enjoyed a glass of wine, I noticed that amidst the neutral tones of the landlord’s possessions, there were patches of vibrant color. Quilts were scattered on chairs, the sofa where I sat- on a bed I could make out in another room. Although the California sojourn was planned to be short-term, Barbara said when I inquired about them, she wanted to have some examples of her handiwork around her in this foreign place. The quilts are for her palpable manifestations of her life and she could not do without at least a few of them around her. They are remainders and reminders of places, people and ways of life she has left behind but which, thanks to the quilts, she could hold close to her. The quilts are a moving ground for a life space stitched of several terrains.

Barbara is part of The Moving Matters Traveling Workshop, a collective of serial migrant artists, scholars and writers I founded in 2013.  Back in 2014, we developed performances for  members of the  Los Angeles Son of Semele Ensemble who were thinking of developing a collaboratively written play based on our work on mobility and migration. ( it would be called Sea Seed: it premiered in 2016).  Barbara used her quilts as ciphers for her storytelling performance on that day. She recounted events and encounters, humorous and tragic events with reference to specific patches of fabric. She also explained how she collects pieces of fabric in the local shops as a way to get to know people and her new environment. She told us how fabric-buying outings enabled her to get a sense of the prevalent aesthetic and styles: she never  goes out seeking specific fabrics or colors but certain swatches of cotton, linen or velvet catch her eye. They call her. She develops ideas for patterns and color schemes with these discoveries. She is also inspired by patterns typical  of  the place she is living. It’s not as thought she is seeking to “describe” the place or convey her own state of mind, in the manner of a diary entry; the process is more one of discovery and free association: of making do with what is available, rather in the fashion of site-specific art. Except, in this case, the collection of quilts witnesses her site-shifting.






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