Adventures in disposal: Sawdust & Threads
By Subhadra Das, on 17 February 2015
Today sees the opening of Sawdust & Threads: an exhibition, residency and art installation which will be based at UCL’s North Lodge on Gower Street for one week until Monday 23rd February 2015.
Sawdust & Threads is an exhibition that takes objects disposed of from museum collections as its material. After drawing the objects, artist Caroline Wright will carefully deconstruct them, reducing them to their component parts. UCL Museums & Collections is one of three museums – along with Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and the Polar Museum in Cambridge – collaborating with Caroline by contributing objects to this Arts Council Funded project. Her drawings will be on display in the North Lodge, and Caroline will be deconstructing the objects from UCL’s Teaching & Research and Ethnography collections in the North Lodge and at the Institute of Making from today.
This exhibition is a new chapter in UCL Museums & Collections rich tradition of engaging with the topic of museum disposals. We were in the first wave of museums who worked to review their collections with the view to managing them more strategically. This included designing an original and adaptable method which many museums across the country are now using to review their own collections. The project culminated in a consultative exhibition which we called ‘Disposal?’, where we invited the UCL and wider Bloomsbury and Camden communities to discuss with us what we should keep, what we should get rid of, and, more broadly, what the purpose of a university museum should be. As with so many museum projects, a shortage of resources has meant that we have not been able to continue these discussions as much as we would have liked.
That was why we were particularly interested, excited and intrigued to be approached by Norwich Castle and Caroline Wright to contribute to Sawdust & Threads.
There are a couple of precedents for projects like this where artists have intervened with museum collections. One is Recycle LACMA , a project by Los Angeles-based artist Robert Fontenot who, having bought textiles sold at auction by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, turned them into teddy bears, eye patches, bee keepers’ helmets, clothes hangers, golf club covers, dog collars, shot gun shell bandoleers and much more. Another is the Manchester Hermit where artist Ansuman Biswas locked himself in the attic of the Manchester Museum for 40 days and threatened to destroy one object from the museum collection each day unless someone could make a good case for keeping it.
Sawdust & Threads includes both of these principles — the desire to interrogate what constitutes a museum object alongside continuing the biography of these selected objects through the medium of art. The really exciting thing is to be able to do this in a public forum, so please do come along to see the exhibition and let us know what you think. We’ll be open to view from 11am to 6pm every day except Sunday, from Tuesday 17th to Monday 23rd February. The programme also includes an Artist’s Talk by Caroline Wright from 1 to 2pm Monday 23rd in the Garwood Lecture Theatre.
Subhadra Das is Curator of the UCL Galton and Pathology Collections, and is one of a team working across UCL Teaching & Research Collections.
 It is important to note that no one has both a long and rich tradition of engaging with this topic because until very recently disposal was a dirty word in museums, the mere mention of which meant that you might never work in this town again. Thankfully, minds have opened, paradigms have shifted, practices have changed and things have improved considerably.
 To find out more, please refer to my list of publications.