The found art of Laura Watson

‘Collections’ explores vastness of time and space.

Laura Watson is a chronic collector. Her life is overflowing with found objects, like buttons, bugs, and books. She finds and salvages forgotten and isolated objects in order to understand the nature of ephemerality, and the vastness of time and space.

Her current START show, simply and aptly titled “Collections,” explores these themes by showcasing bits and pieces of her various compendia in the form of prints, drawings, embroideries and sculptures. The show opened on April 4, and runs until April 14.

The set up of Watson’s exhibition immediately exudes a feeling of intimacy. Her busy, yet systematic curation gave me the sense that I was entering someone’s home, where their memories and personal belongings were front and centre. Her works are displayed in a warm and unintimidating collage-like manner that is reminiscent of the way people put family photographs up on their walls.

In the place of photographs, however, the room was filled with small paintings, prints, and drawings on pieces of debris, like pages torn out of used books and wood surfaces.

Recurring motifs of moths, flora, and the night sky were prominent fixtures throughout the exhibition. These images reinforce Watson’s fascination with the passing and preservation of time.

“I think a lot about the massiveness of time and space, and us having a very small instant in that. And how do we use that time and make it valuable,” Watson said. “I think of collecting as a process of trying to assert value to things.”

Watson notes that she frequently works on unconventional surfaces because it enables her to work quickly enough to keep up with her constantly changing ideas.

“It allows you to work a lot faster. You can work with whatever scraps are lying around,” she said. “But then, it takes on another meaning when [the materials] have their own history and their own life before you start painting on them.”

Watson’s appropriation of both material and history creates an interesting tension in much of her work between personal and universal experience, as well as public and private space. While each individual piece reflects an interest or experience that is unique to Watson, the history of the objects she collects extends far beyond her own existence. In this way, her work is both distinctly personal, and intimately linked to a more complex, relatable, and universal history.

This effect was most apparent in Watson’s collection of “memory boxes.” Here, Watson used several thrifted trunks and boxes to display small assemblage sculptures of variously themed ephemera. The boxes were hung from the wall, with their tops open for viewers to peer into. The small boxes featured fragmented objects like buttons, faded photographs, pressed flowers, and book pages. Together, the boxes were beautiful and compelling—sources of both mystery and discovery.

In some ways, the boxes were readily accessible to the viewer. Watson invited the audience to open and interact with the boxes, and the ambiguity of the subjects displayed within them prompted the viewers to wonder at who might have owned them, and what the objects might have meant to someone.

Yet, despite this engagement and interaction, the works were also paradoxically inaccessible. They could be closed at any moment, creating a level of privacy and mystery that the viewer can’t penetrate. Even though the audience can speculate about the objects, the full extent of their history and their significance remains unknowable—even to Watson.

In this piece, and every subsequent collection in Watson’s exhibition, the viewers are immediately confronted with the ostensible limitations of time and experience, both generally and specifically. “Collections” is currently on display at START Gallery, along with an exhibition of work by the third year fine arts students.

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