Monday, 17 October 2016

Shelf Life by Mark Clarke, The Bowes Museum...

Hello lovelies!

I'm returning from my current blog hiatus (my workload has been huge!) to tell you about the latest exhibition to take place at The Bowes Museum.  On Friday, I was kindly invited to the preview of 'Shelf Life: The Ornaments are talking to me' and it's one of the most thought provoking collections that I have ever been to (but I'll come to that later).  It's a slight sidestep away from the fashion collections I normally review, but the inclusion of popular culture in the assemblages made it still feel incredibly relevant.

The Bowes Museum at night-still beautiful!

I took my lovely Mama L with me as my guest for the evening.  We were greeted with drinks and took our time to look closely at the paintings whilst we were waiting for the evening to begin.

 Mama L posing with the silver swan

In our introduction to the exhibition, we were told that Mark Clarke had become fascinated with the objects that his mother had collected towards the end of her life whilst she was battling dementia.  She arranged objects on her shelves in terms of hierarchy, giving Clarke an insight into how her mind was working.  It's true to say that we are all hoarders in one form or another (for me it's my ever growing collection of Vogue magazines and fashion books!) and the objects we collect sometimes evoke thoughts of a certain time in life or a certain decade (when I was little I had a troll collection-you can't get more early nineties than trolls!) which is certainly the case with many of the objects in Clarke's installations.

Although inspired by his Mother's dementia, the assemblages aren't a direct representation of his mother's collections-some of the objects were from his mother's home but there are others from charity shops and jumble sales that help to make up the numbers.  The exhibition explores the notion of 'art versus accumulation', deals with the ideas of love and loss and provokes memories of times long forgotten.  Separated into five separate themes, each assemblage explores many ideas from the past to popular culture in a really unusual yet strangely fun way.

Before we delve into the exhibition, I must apologise for the darkness of my photos, but hopefully they should help to give you an idea of Clarke's work and hopefully make you want to visit for yourselves!

Theme 1: Dinnertime

I loved 'Dinnertime'.  I am a massive dog lover and Christmas lover-so in this case the ornaments really were speaking out to me!  Clarke explores the idea here that pets are our closest companions and that for someone with dementia, knowing that your companion has to be fed can help to mark key points during the day which may otherwise go unnoticed.  My boyfriend lost his Nana to dementia a few years ago, and her cats were her closest companions-helping to provide comfort and companionship in her final days.  I loved the randomness of the animals wearing masks here-and the fact that there was a random space hopper amongst all of the animals (my dog Jay-Jay once had one of these as a toy!).

Theme 2: Once Upon A Time

Based on the musical 'Into the Woods', 'Once Upon A Time' represents the idea of life as a fairytale, leaving behind a feeling of disillusionment, reality and responsibility once the dream is over.  The objects featured are described as 'silent witnesses'-the things in our home that see everything be it happy or sad.  I found this assemblage to be the saddest; we strive to make the best of everything in our lives, yet I suppose tragedy and some sadness is always inescapable.  My Mam also felt sad after seeing this.  She talked about her collection of Lilliput Lane cottages that have been with her throughout her adult life which will be unloved when she's no longer here.  She also said if they could talk they could tell some tales but it's probably best that they can't!!

Theme 3: Showtime

This assemblage played around with the idea that the elderly and infirm were once young and that in today's society this is sometimes forgotten.  I love the inclusion of masks and hats, jewellery and sparkles to represent a life once lived.  I have met some wonderful elderly people who have had fascinating lives and always have a story to tell and I love that this is celebrated here.  My Mam turned seventy last year and I know for a fact that her life was once much wilder than mine has ever been and probably ever will be!  The objects collected from a life once lived help to tell their story-hoarding in the best possible way!

Theme 4: A Time to Kill

The theme here explores the idea that it is sometimes hard to make sense of a person's life through their accumulated objects and that for a dementia sufferer, when faces begin to blur and memories fade, comfort can often be sought from the familiar faces of celebrities and the popular culture that surrounds us every day.  For me the saying 'one man's trash is another man's treasure' applies to this assemblage; what may just look like junk in a shed could mean the world to it's owner.

Theme 5: Primetime

This was my favourite assemblage of the Mark Clarke collection.  Here, Clarke has recreated celebrities from popular culture using inexpensive household objects.  These are the people that become the friends of those who are housebound and only have their TV to keep them company; the celebrities of today become their best friends.  I hate the idea of anyone being lonely, it is one of my greatest fears in life; but I love that it is explored here in a fun and positive way.  I couldn't really work out which celebrity was which-Mam and I think we found Will.I.Am and Sia-but as for the others...Victoria and David Beckham??? I think I'll have to get a copy of the exhibition catalogue to find out!

 Centre and right: Will.I.Am and Sia (we think; earphones and concealed face were our clues!)

Although I had a lot of fun exploring Mark Clarke's 'Shelf Life', I do think it is one of the most thought provoking and deeply emotional pieces that I have ever reviewed.  Presented in a light-hearted way, I have thought about it a lot since I viewed it and to put this post together.  To summarise, because I consider my life only half-lived at the age of thirty, I thought the collection was fun and that it dealt with a serious and heart-wrenching mental condition in a really upbeat way.  But to me, although dementia is one of my greatest fears, it appears a worse condition for those around the sufferer who have lost the mind of one of their nearest and dearest, than the person actually suffering from the condition.  The objects in the room delve into the mind of the sufferer and the comfort that such objects must give them in a world where everything becomes unfamiliar, so there is definitely an element of positivity to be taken from that.  However, for my Mam who is coming into the golden years of her life, she found the collection interesting yet incredibly emotional to look at; I guess it made her face the reality of a life that one day she'll have to leave behind.  If anything, Mark Clarke has created a lasting memory of his mother for all, which is a truly wonderful tribute to her.  As for my own mother, the main comfort that I can give her is the knowledge that she is truly loved and that certainly in my memory, she will never ever be forgotten, regardless of whatever happens to the objects she leaves behind.

'Shelf Life: The Ornaments are talking to me' runs until 12th February 2017 and is covered by general admission into the museum.  You can find out more about admission fees here.  Thank you to the staff at The Bowes Museum for inviting me along to this event-we had a wonderful evening. 'Shelf Life' is an incredible, thought provoking experience and I'd recommend it to all.

Thanks for reading,



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