Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Collection Curation

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

I'm a bad collector, okay, maybe not "bad" but I'm......irresponsible? Yeah, let's go with that, I'm an irresponsible collector. Why? Well here's why. 

These pictures show an almost criminal negligence in maintaining my collection. Expensive third party toys lie scattered around my desk without any thought for their well-being, their place on a shelf denied to them by my own carelessness and apathy. Wondrous figures stand behind lesser toys, their beauty obscured by rank after rank of deluxes, voyagers and whatever plastic debris I have placed upon my shelves. I have given over control of my space to my collection and it has broken through the preset barriers I once had, occupying a space far beyond its due. 

And the dust! The dust! We all know dusting shelves can be considered the bane of collectors but this is inexcusable! 

How has it come to this!? I have made numerous videos concerning maintaining a collection, having purpose and direction and most importantly, a controlled space to fully appreciate toys but clearly I do not practice what I preach. The honest answer is I'm lazy. Lazy on a scale that would have celebrities flocking to take part in a charity appeal to just get me to dust my shelves. Were I to dig a little deeper I could tell you that my standards aren't high enough and I grow easily accustomed to mess and general disarray. Part of it comes from the miniature building side of my hobbies, where a desk full of parts and tools is an endless source of creativity but the more significant part is just shear laziness and irresponsibility. Now you can say they're just toys, do what you want, display them how you want but that sort of bottom feeder thinking does not fly in my books. I wouldn't get anywhere near the enjoyment out of collecting toy robots were I not able to indulge myself in top tier levels of irrational neuroticism. No, a collection needs to be controlled, it needs to be curated. When there are toys in a state as seen in the pictures above surely that is when the collection has taken control of the collector.  

People need control and when it's lacking in their work or personal lives collecting can be the go to solution. I myself struggle to maintain pockets of control to balance out those moments where my time is not my own and I am constantly going to and fro at the behest of those around me. So why would I let my collection further add to this problem rather than using it as an outlet for my need to dominate regain control?

On those rare occasions I do tidy my shelves there comes a moment where I might have a handful of toys on a shelf and it just feels nice, it feels better. Each figure can be appreciated fully as a stand alone piece or within the context of a display versus maybe being able to appreciate the head and shoulders of that £60 third party toy because the rest is blocked by four other figures. At that point I sigh and inevitably add all the other toys back onto the shelf, be it decided by faction alignment, release line or whatever head canon I may have applied to a few figures. That could lead us into why you display certain toys together but that's an article for another week. 

Toys deserving of space

Our own Leigh Gregurke has this to say on collection curation,

"A piece of advice provided by my first year sculpture lecturer many years ago has always remained with me informing arts practice,my critical analysis process and in the way I manage physical spaces. 

'Stop wedging your work against a gallery wall, resist tucking it into a corner. As a three dimensional form your work is denying the viewer all but a portion of its places if you disallow the viewer the access the form. Let them walk around it, engage the viewer on a physical level and understand the zone of space that a form occupies in a room.' 

I don't see it as a giant leap to also see the way that we as collectors are prone the chaotic rabble occupying a shelf where no form has room to breathe or be appreciated. How often can we appreciate and identify the negative space on a shelf? See the spaces between forms? More commonly our curation attempts resemble a school photographer desperately trying to surmise whom is taller to place at the back while managing the chaos of impatient children unwilling to stand or remain in place."

This "school picture" is often how you'll see a collection displayed. Toys standing to attention, arranged as dominoes in both layout and with the potential disaster which would befall them were one to fall over, dragging the rest down with them. In this way shelves are used as storage for toys rather than a tool for display.

I do think it is possible to have a shelf crammed full of toys and still have an attractive and appealing display though. It requires balance in size, colour, form and style to name a few of the myriad aspects which determine a good display. I'm quite pleased with my Season 3/IDW/Wreckers/Lost Light etc shelf. It works, I like it. Yes there are a lot of toys struggling for space but it puts me in mind of St. Pepper's style art work done for MTMTE. It's a group of friends all fighting for space to ensure they're in the shot.

Compare this to my Decepticon shelf and no, just no. This is awful. There is little cohesion from one group of toys to the next, too many "big guys" and not enough space for smaller toys to have their own place without feeling pushed aside or squeezed to the front. Fitting for Decepticons I suppose.  

I dream of shelves with but a handful of toys, each with enough space to be fully appreciated and make use of that mystical property scientists call negative space. Of course this dream can be easily realised, just pack up a load of toys, leaving plenty of shelf space for the survivors of the Great Boxing but then I'd just have cupboards full of toys which would result in the mental strain I sometimes feel when I consider what lies hidden away from sight. The groan and creak of wood as my cupboard doors strain against the tide of plastic yearning to break free and spill out across my flat. For someone who loves toys so much they definitely place a sort of stress on my mental space. I think about these things far too much to the point of obsession but thankfully there is a shred of rationality left in my mind which prevents me from thinking I need to sell everything to regain control of my living space.

As our collections grow we are faced with the problem of ever dwindling space. Do we buy more shelves onto which we cram yet more toys, resulting in a cramped and poorly laid out display? Do we make the decision to control our collection and cut back, put toys into storage, rotate displays and curate? I don't think there's one true answer but I do know I'm not quite in either camp yet. I fear that by year's end I will be faced with the prospect of culling the majority of my collection or send a lot of toys into storage from whence they will likely never return.

Until next time, keep it #Refined 

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath


  1. My wife and I are running into the same issue. Between her BJDs, all her Sailor Moon stuff, my Transformers, and now all these damn Marvel Legends I keep picking up, shelf space is at a premium. And what's worse, our apartment is so small that we can't even GET any more display shelves! It's going to be interesting when we eventually move out of that place, because we're going to have to put some serious thought about where we're going to PUT all of this.

    1. Yep. We are planning a move as well which has led to a culling. Honestly I never planned to have so many transformers.

  2. Almost everything I have is boxed, but I don't feel bad about it. Am I supposed to? I get stuff out regularly to check it out, then pack it back up. Neat and clean! And it's like new every time that way, extends the feeling of acquisition that drives so much of the hobby.