The starting point for this group show is an anecdote from an essay by Douglas Coupland, in which he describes an unlikely venture into the world of dumpster diving. Coupland notes that “you can often find very interesting portraits of a person by looking only at what they discard.” ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On The Bedpost Overnight)’ takes this idea and runs with it. The objects we choose to accumulate and surround ourselves with represent a manicured veneer, and what we throw away is more revealing. Isn’t it more exciting to think about how someone would rather not be perceived?
This playful exhibition can be found at the recently opened J Hammond Projects gallery near Archway in London. Located in a studio complex and accessed through a dark courtyard, the space feels appropriately tucked away for a head-first dive into human detritus. Overseen by Justin Hammond, who conceived and spent nine years curating the prestigious Catlin Art Prize for recent graduates, this small but dynamic project is definitely worth keeping an eye on. The exhibition itself is co-organised by Will Rees, an artists’ studio manager, and Hamish Pearch, a London-based artist whose work is also included in the show.
The exhibition appears overwhelming at first – a patchwork of junk and ephemera – but together Rees, Pearch and Hammond have made this eclectic mix gel into a surprisingly cohesive whole. There are punchy, vibrant panels of ceramic shards by emerging artist Katie Schwab, and an installation of corkboard and thumbtacks by Sebastian Jefford, titled ‘No Buried Treasure Here Yet’, an X-marks-the-spot that covers an entire wall. Pearch’s giant aluminium beer cans are eerily anthropomorphic, discardable objects made monumental with Warholian panache.
Further highlights include a piece by Mexican artist Debora Delmar Corp., who has recently exhibited at the Berlin Biennale and Modern Art Oxford, and is known for her subversive, kitschy installations. Here she offers the camp proposal of a broken pink Ugg boot made of jesmonite ceramic, sitting on a plain rug digitally printed with shagpile. A more disarming piece is Tessa Lynch’s ‘Umbrellas (Remembered)’, a meticulously crafted sculpture of steel and weaving thread that directly resembles the skeletal remains of a broken umbrella. It is so convincing that visitors on the opening night were compelled to try and pick it up and throw it in the bin.
Then there is Bea Bonafini’s ‘Library of Spoons’, an imposing mixed-media installation with taxonomically arranged leather pillows, ceramic spoons and textiles patterned with food dye across a rickety wooden bookshelf. Despite its superficial emphasis on the domestic, Bonafini offers a humble, relevant answer to the tradition of the wunderkammer that neatly summarises the ambitions of the exhibition as a whole. Why do we, as human beings, accumulate so many things: clothes, posters, books, souvenirs, knick-knacks? Is it out of vanity or to reassure ourselves that our identity is somehow singular? Or is it, more cynically, an outward projection to friends, strangers, partners: a subconscious plea to be loved?
The crowded arrangement of all of these works within the relatively small space gives the exhibition a slightly chaotic feel – like stepping into the home of a kleptomaniac. But with limited means the curators have crafted a show that is distinctive and impressive in its confidence and wealth of ideas alone. As I threw my empty cigarette packet into the bin on my way back to the tube station, I began thinking of its life cycle, from pulp to packaging to its eventual fate on the scrapheap. I’ve never imagined the flotsam and jetsam at the bottom of my bag with a kind of pathos. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate my own hoarder’s instinct.