ow does the meaning of an object change over time? How is the meaning of an object altered when it is taken out of its usual context? Who would have thought that taking household rubbish from a recycling centre and photographing it in a studio, it would still be just that – rubbish.
A new exhibition at Lincoln museum The Collection called ‘The Anatomy of Objects’ attempts to investigate how objects come to have meaning. The display was created by Programme Leader of the MA Photography course at Lincoln University, Adam O’Meara – who was behind ‘Taskscape’, a previous exhibition at The Collection – and Lincoln Social Science Centre member, David McAleavey, who worked on ‘Our Place, Our Priorities’, a photographic exhibition created by homeless people for the centre. For this exhibition, the pair worked with a Lincoln recycling centre, photographing staff members and objects.
As you enter the exhibition, a plaque asks “How do objects mean?” a statement as perfunctory as it is grammatically problematic. On entering the small exhibition room, you see photos hastily slapped on poorly cut foam board – workers in high-vis, uninspired, posed portraits that wouldn’t look out of place on the recycling centre’s website. Some of these snapshots have been signed by their subjects, but only a few of them, as if it were an afterthought.
Walking around the space reveals a number of reasonably competent still life photos of numerous pieces of junk – a colander, some broken plugs, a stuffed toy atop various bric-a-brac – it says something about an exhibition when the standout piece is a picture of a spool of gold cotton on a stone plinth.
Visitors are invited to ‘recycle’ something in the bin provided, which will then be photographed and added to the project’s archive – hopefully they will resist the urge to dispose of a canvas or two. An abstract picture hangs in one corner – completely unexplained and out of context – giving the impression that when putting together this collection of still life photos, the printer suffered a malfunction.
The point of this exhibition doesn’t elude me – it’s a comment on our disposable culture, the permanency of objects and their cultural significance and varying interpretations – but this slapdash display does nothing to elicit the desired response.
Perhaps this work would be acceptable in an A-level photography student’s binder, but to place it here, among historical objects and classical paintings of genuine interest, seems almost insulting. However, perhaps this is in keeping with some of The Collection’s second-rate modern exhibits, including the recent ‘Freedom Lies’ a skin-deep, thrown-together exploration into capital punishment that left much to be desired.
The Anatomy of Objects is as throwaway as its subject matter.
The exhibition runs in the Courtyard Gallery of The Collection from 16 January to 14 February 2016. Admission is free.