The Pathology of Collecting

‘My Favourite Things’

The museum sets out a democratic society and we have discussed in depth the effect of this curation on meaning. This problem leads us to the realisation that it is the personal collection therefore that is more truthful about culture. When the individual decides the value, they are able to set up their owns narrative, featuring objects not ‘meant’ for a museum. Richard Wentworth’s work Questions of Taste 1997, explores this very concept and the subjectivity of value attributed to collected objects. Here the debris of capitalist culture found outside the British Museum is seen side by side with the debris of history. Wentworth questions what it is that makes the artefacts of the past worthy of being suitable museum pieces, and not disposable.

Richard Wentworth, Questions of Taste 1997

Richard Wentworth, Questions of Taste 1997

Both objects here are containers for liquid and we can contextualise the plastic bottle as a drinking implement. In contrast the ceramic jug has ceased to exist with this purpose and is transformed into a mere object through what Baudrillard defines the ‘process of passionate abstraction we call possession.’ ( Baudrillard, 1994, p.8)

Within pop culture the subject of collecting is overwhelmingly topical and popular. When I went to look for video examples of personal collecting I was bombarded by a mass of sources. It is relevant to question why it is so popular and broadcasted, whether this is due to collecting being a norm or rather a new form of entertainment through the act of passing judgement at the expense of others. I found two, very different, examples to be compelling narratives of collector’s habits and mind sets.

What resonated with me most in these two videos was that within both collections, and indeed many of the videos, we see grown adults collecting object with more childish connotations. It is interesting to see how with the habit there is a regression to childlike comforts and its purer joys. Texts that explore the pathology of collecting show that it is an action intrinsically linked with psychological issues. It provokes the query as to how this re-emerged interest and overcompensation looks to deal with possible traumas. It is possible this theme is linked with the concept that, ‘the activity of collecting may be seen as a powerful mechanism of compensation during critical phases in a person’s sexual development’  (Baudrillard, 1994, p.9) Collecting is widely seen in children and often it’s reappearance is considered to be rooted in such issues.

In the christmas example, the act of display is central whereas with the Sci-Fi themed collection the sheer scale resorts in the boxing up and external storage solutions. There is no particular sense of display, Bellomo even comments on not wanting to anger viewers with how the more ‘valuable’ items are stored away. The problem here is one of purpose, the toy like Wentworth’s ceramic jug becomes divested of its function. This is seen further in the desire to find an item in ‘mint’ condition, only to be retained in this state.

With their Christmas inflatable collection Steve and Kristy show the level of their commitment to the collection and display. The monetary and sacrifices of time are clearly seen. The relationship between the collectors and the objects double sided. On one hand the collector gives the objects meaning within the context of a collection and in turn the act of collecting becomes the collectors own life’s purpose. The two are reliant to each other.  By atributing such personal attachment to the objects, the collector’s almost give life to them, which brings the possibility of death. As we see the inflatables worn out with age and Steve physically burying the plastic ‘body’, it is then true: ‘we have to concede that time is indeed objectively irreversible, and that even those objects whose function is to shield us from this fact must in due course be snatched away by time’ (Baudrillard, 1994, p.16)

Collections are not formed with an end in sight and it is significant that these two selected object of collection may never even be inflicted to this. With the object choices, there is an open door to many different divergent objects that are now so  easily accessible through the internet. Baudrillard’s text The System of Collecting, discusses the guilt that surrounds the habit by noting, ‘and without exception…they will maintain about their collection an aura of clandestine, of confinement, secrecy and dissimilation, all of which give rise to the unmistakable impression of a guilt relationship.’ (Baudrillard, 1994, p.9) . However as social media progresses we see a rise the social acceptance. The text having been published in 1994, we see a major shift in this aspect of research, with the internet creating forums for people to connect through their compulsions. This is seen in  both videos where Mark talks of his ‘fans’ and the mass of travellers that journey to observe the inflatables collection. The inflatable collectors self profess the obsession and present it with a tone of light hearted self-mocking. Talking about these compulsions publicly derived from the desire  to normalise them.

When collecting has evolved to be social, and Sci-fi memorabilia being a massive consumer market, for which there are specific stores, communities and aesthetics that it maintains. I wonder whether the action is an introverted or extroverted activity? The origination of the collection comes a personal desire and will be played privately or publicly respectively of how it is received. This is grounded in the notion that, ‘ although the collection may speak to other people, it is always first and foremost a discourse directed toward oneself’. (Baudrillard, 1994, p.22) With this reflection I seem to have come full circle and question again why is collections of the scientific or historical ‘better’ education than that of the inflatables or Sci-fi pieces. The differences is one is accepted as a universal narrative of being valuable and the other deemed distasteful and even unhealthy.



FlophouseFilms (2009). COLLECTABLE SPECTACLE “Mark Bellomo” 2 0f 18 [Internet]. Available from: <; [Accessed 1 Nov 2013]

spaulcottonplant (2012). TLC My Crazy Obsession- Christmas in Cotton Plant [Internet]. Available from: <; [Accessed 1 Nov 13]


Baudrillard, J. (1994) The System of Collecting. In: Elsner, J & Cardinal, R. The Cultures of Collecting. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.


Hiller, S. (1969-2011) Homage to Joseph Beuys, series of felt-lined cabinets containing antique bottles of holy water. [online image]. Available at: <; [Accessed 31 Oct 13].

Wentworth, R. (1997) ‘Found modern Panda cherryade bottle with ancient Egyptian Bes Flask’ from Questions of Taste installation. [online image]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Nov 13].



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