Secret Stash: Textiles, Hoarding, Collecting, Accumulation and Craft

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In this essay, I look first at the history of hoarding and bring this discourse up to date to examine the recent pathologization of hoarding as a mental disease through its 2013 acceptance into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Second, because my interest is specifically in textiles, I examine the mass accumulation of yarn, textiles and other goods by crafters. Though fabric and yarn stashes can result in feelings of guilt, they are also understood as storehouses, loaded with the memories of past handmade items and the potential for future projects. Descriptions even of these excessive craft hoards complicate understandings of hoarding as a ‘curable’ mental illness. Third, I consider how a number of contemporary artists have used hoarding and/or the representation of hoards as a strategy to address excess, waste, emotional attachments to objects, and overconsumption. In the final section of the chapter, I bring these threads together to ask whether the increasing presence of hoarding is simply symptomatic of changing patterns of consumption, and whether “hoarding [is] less of a mental illness located in the brain and more of a socialized phenomenon located in the world at large.”. In other words, given the ease of accumulation under late capitalism, is it possible to think about hoarding as a creative response to the amount of stuff circulating in the world as much as it is a pathology? And can we do this by acknowledging that the line between hoarding and over-consumption is a porous one, granted seeming impermeability only insofar as the ambient accumulation of material objects symptomatic of late capitalism is pushed to the background? My overall goal here is to complicate the over-simplified discourse around hoarding through a discussion of the pleasures and guilt of ownership, collecting, and use.

A 6,000 word version of this essay will be published in the book Craft on Demand: The New Politics of the Handmade, Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch, eds. Expected publication 2017. A 9,000 word version is available here.

Image: Sarah Appelbaum, Phantasmagoria, 2007

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About Kirsty Robertson

Kirsty Robertson is an Associate Professor of contemporary art and museum studies at the University of Western Ontario.

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