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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.

AIRED: January 22, 2016 | 0:05:41
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

-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.

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