fri 22/01/2021

'Things' Ain't What They Used To Be | reviews, news & interviews

'Things' Ain't What They Used To Be

'Things' Ain't What They Used To Be

The public works for free. That is the founding principal of modern broadcasting culture. It phones radio stations with its air-filling thoughts on this and that. It monopolises Saturday nights on primetime in singing and dancing and plate-spinning. Until recently, it would sit in a house for weeks on end while we (in decreasing numbers) watched. But the public as museum curators? That’s a new one.

Or almost new. The undisputed radio triumph of the year has been Radio 4’s collaboration with the British Museum, A History of the World in 100 Objects. To leaven what might be perceived as intellectual elitism, Radio 4 has been running a parallel series in which listeners can nominate their own possessions as objects of historical value. The best get on the radio. But you can go to the programme website and simply add your own object. Recent additions include a Co-Op savers book, a plastic Christmas tree and a commemorative Newport RFC lighter.

Whether the virtual museum as stocked by the public is just one big car boot sale of memorabilia will be tested anew at the Wellcome Collection. They are asking the public to loan or even donate possessions to add to Henry Wellcome’s collection of a million-and-a-half artefacts. They will be displayed in an exhibition called Things, which is the brainchild of the artist Keith Wilson. Between 12 and 19 October, he is asking people to bring along any object at all, of either considerable or minimal value, whereupon it will be catalogued, photographed, labelled and then displayed on metal shelving, compartmentalised according to days of the week. If you happen to bring something along on a Sunday it will end up in one of the museum's display cabinets. You are then invited to take them away again between 20 and 22 October, thus creating an organic shifting collection. Just don’t make your object any larger than your own head: that’s all that is asked.

"Like most people I am fascinated by other people's things", says Wilson, "and find it difficult to throw anything away. This event is an opportunity to explore that fascination by setting up a collection which is immediately on open display. Members of the public will come with their stories, which are there to be contested, not least by the objects themselves. At each step of their procession through the exhibition the objects might be reconsidered. It is a flirtation with a potentially endless number of other stories that might exist out there, anchored in the reality of the thing itself."

But never mind what Wilson says. He's only the co-curator. If you take along an object, you will be one too. Working for free, naturally.

  • Things at the Wellcome Collection from 12 to 22 October

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters