Collecting Life’s Remnants with Nigel Poor
Nigel Poor focuses on ordinary objects and materials, researching what makes an object “worthy of preservation,” in her words. This KQED Art School video was created in collaboration with SFMOMA, who commissioned art-making activity ideas from Nigel Poor for their Open Studio project. Learn how to make art using simple materials: all you need is time, a place, a bag and your camera.
-My name is Nigel Poor.
I'm gonna give you three projects
in order to help you document your everyday life.
What I'm really interested in is how to document life
and what's worthy of preservation.
You know, what do we do in life
that leaves behind a mark of who we are?
And we do this in large and small ways.
And what I really want to think about
are the small ways in which we do this.
For example, the idea of the fingerprint
and how every place we go,
every room we inhabit,
we leave part of ourselves behind.
We're constantly in the process of shedding ourselves
as we gain knowledge and understanding of the world.
And that's a very curious state of being to me.
So, the objective of these assignments
is to slow you down,
to make you quiet,
and to develop your listening skills.
Project number one is the Walk.
This project involves walking,
found objects, places, and time.
For this project, you're gonna take a walk.
And when you leave your house,
you are gonna leave everything behind.
But you are gonna take a bag with you,
because you're gonna be collecting something.
So, what I want you to do
is walk until you find an interesting object
that's been discarded on the ground.
Once you pick that up,
you can put it in your bag,
and you can go home.
But remember -- Once you pick that object up,
you've committed to it.
If you find something else shiny and beautiful
on the way home,
you've got to walk past it,
because you've made a commitment to that one object.
So, at the end of the week,
you're gonna have your seven objects.
And now it's time to do something with them.
Can you actually see something about what you're interested in?
They may seem like disparate objects,
but maybe you can find something that connects them
and take seven things and turn it into one.
The next project is called the Daily Action.
And for this idea,
I want you to think about something
that you do every day that you can document.
It can be something small,
but it has to be something that's essential to you,
something that you do every day.
In order to document it, you're gonna need a camera.
And in order to view the outcome of your work,
you're gonna either need to look at your images
on a computer or print them out.
So, the hardest part of this project
is probably figuring out
what your daily activity is gonna be,
and I want you to think about something that you do every day,
something that's essential to who you are.
It might be something you actually do in a mindless way,
but mindless activities can actually reveal
something essential about who you are.
So, once you identify that activity,
you're going to be documenting it.
There's two parts to this project.
One is documenting the activity,
and one is documenting the evidence of the activity.
And what's important about the evidence of the activity
is that it speaks to what we leave behind.
And documentary work of any sort
is about investigating what's left behind,
what do we, as individuals,
leave as evidence of our existence.
And even though you're examining something that's really small,
I'm hoping that the evidence that's left behind
is gonna spark you to think about larger issues.
So, remember -- it's the activity
and the evidence of that activity.
The Secret Life of Garbage is the third assignment,
and this is probably the most challenging.
Like the other projects, it's also based on time
and committing to an activity for a week.
So, for this project,
you're gonna save all the garbage
that you would have thrown out over that weeklong period.
It doesn't mean just saving garbage in your house.
It means when you go out into the world,
you're also saving all your garbage,
so you need to have a bag that you can carry with you.
Remember, if you go and get coffee
and you stir your coffee, you've got to keep that stirrer.
If you go into the bathroom and you wash your hands,
you've got to save that paper that you dried your hands with.
So, it's easy to forget about
all of the stuff you use during the day and throw out.
So, at the end, when you look at your garbage,
I want you to put it out on a table.
And I want you to look at it objectively.
Almost imagine that you're an archeologist
trying to discover the meaning in this pile of garbage.
One way to do that is to make categories.
Go through it and see where you find things
that have an overlap.
Maybe all of the paper pieces go in one place,
all of the food containers,
all of your coffee cups.
Whatever it is that you start to see as a pattern,
push that and categorize it.
'Cause I think one really interesting way
of trying to understand the world and yourself
is through the archive.
And in this case, what you're doing is
making an archive of your garbage.
And after you have it all organized,
I then want you to sit quietly with it and think about,
what does it express about who you are?
Art is about communication,
about trying to either
understand the world or understand yourself.
And that kind of understanding
happens best in a group environment.
So, all of these projects really can be heightened
by engaging with other people,
whether it's your friends or your family,
and at the end of any of these projects,
it's really great to sit down with a group of people
and talk about what happened,
what did you learn, what are the results.
I mean, imagine if everyone in your family
saved their garbage for one week
and at the end of that, you all sat down and archived it
and talked about who you are
and how you relate to each other,
find your commonalities,
find the things that are different.
It's really a way of being curious
about yourself and other people,
and I think one of the best ways to be in the world
is to be curious, to want to listen,
and to want to learn about other people.