The starting point for the Clutter Bank was a growing awareness of ‘the stuff’ in our lives, how we deal with it and the effect it has on our lives and the planet.
Dealing with possessions can be stressful. Most of us have to deal with an ongoing flood of objects that are bought, given or magically appear in our lives. They need tidying, sorting and inevitably throwing out every now and then so that we don’t drown under it all. No wonder personal storage use is on the increase. A study published by UCLA showed that women’s stress hormones peaked during the times they were dealing with their possessions and material goods.
And yet the way we measure the economic health of the country is by calculating how much we spend and therefore how much we buy. It’s hard to resist the desire to pop into those sales, that people won’t judge us if our shoes are scruffy or if we deny our children the latest hot craze.
During the Clutter Bank installation at Queensgate, it was interesting speaking to some of the older generation, and it’s apparent that this is a recent and modern problem. Within one generation the number of objects we own has doubled.
The Clutter Bank was filled with a collection of hand-sized clutter. We asked people to attempt to count their possessions with our ginormous survey, sort through the clutter to find something that relates to their lives and then share a thought with others by writing a label.
We found that, with so much clutter, and so much apparent disorder of lost, broken and unloved items it was possible to create a new order. It was been possible to sort the items into colours and categories and perhaps recognise patterns in this collective clutter drawer. I wonder if this new creation of order from disorder might be something to draw upon again, and might form a metaphor for the state we find ourselves in faced with climate change.
During the installation, the days were filled with interesting conversations about what people collect, how they feel about clutter and how they deal with it. I spoke to a woman who recalled that her toys as a child had fitted into one bag and a young woman who was aware that she had a problem with hoarding, a couple who collect garden gnomes (with over 350 hand painted ornaments filling their garden), and a man who recognised that his inability to fix broken objects makes him feel embarrassed and somehow less of a man.
Taking part in the Planet B festival was inspiring and an exciting opportunity. It offered an opportunity to meet other artists and professionals who are engaged in participatory practice and interested in activism and using art to tackle or engage with issues faced by climate change. It has been an opportunity to take part in events in the festival itself and learn more about the issues and about the amazing things that people are doing to combat climate change.
A particular highlight for me was to watch ‘Demain’, the acclaimed documentary that won a prize in Cannes 2016. Do find a way to watch this, if you can, because it is packed with exciting projects that ordinary people are creating to side-step governments and big business to find new ways of thinking and living.
Now Planet B is over and autumn is here, I find that the festival has given me new energy and focus to develop more projects dealing with these difficult ideas of relinquishment and the insecurity of climate change. I now find myself planning on keeping the clutter collected from the project with the idea of taking it to another city to ask them “What’s in your clutter drawer’?
Emily Tracy was one of the artists commissioned as part of the Planet B festival in Peterborough, which ran in July and August 2017.