The Creative Edge of Collecting: The “Nothing” of William Davies King
Sun, 03/01/2020 - 8:00am to Fri, 06/05/2020 - 5:00pm
In 2008, UCSB Theater professor William Davies King confronted his lifelong practice of collecting things of little or no value in his book Collections of Nothing (U. of Chicago Press, 2008). Since then, he has sought ways to transform the idle collecting of ephemera into something enduring and creative—a story, a teaching, a work of art. He offers this exhibit to the creative imagination of its viewers, with a nod to those who are intrigued by the quirky things professors and collectors do.
Professor King’s course, Collectors and Collecting, has now reached hundreds of UCSB students with the message that the activity of collecting can be meaningful, therapeutic, and beautiful, even if the objects happen to be as trivial as bottle caps or hotel door cards or the little squares that say “Place Stamp Here.” He also pays attention to the coin and comic book collectors out there, the hunters of first editions and rare jazz albums, and those who pursue (like Andy Warhol) cookie jars.
Scratch the surface and you will find some kind of collection in just about every American household. Some might be virtual (e.g. those on Pinterest), and some might be conceptual (e.g. knock-knock jokes); some might be hidden away in a safe or a basement, or proudly displayed on the wall of the front hall. People tend to collect, and collecting works with a kind of value not quite the same as that seen in the marketplace.
What Professor King has done in his writing and teaching is to look frankly at the social and psychological impulses to collect, and also at the eye-opening possibilities of what one might do with . . . whatever. This exhibit looks at the range of his efforts to think through the world by holding on to its least-prized relics. In some cases, his collecting goes not far beyond mere accumulation. In other cases, he creates a special place—a frame—for how the world’s stuff can be appreciated. And in some cases, he transforms his collected material into the stuff of art. Last June, he arrayed his entire cereal box collection, 2300 items, on the floor of a dance studio as a giant mandala, which he called Tree of Life. Life cereal made the trunk.
On April 2, Professor King will give a talk at the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC) at UCSB, using the same title as this exhibition. He will be on a panel with Professor Rebecca Falkoff of New York University, an expert on Italian literature, as well as on the phenomenon of hoarding. She will give a talk entitled “An Oikos for Everything: Hoarding against Waste.” The talk begin at 4:00 p.m., and a discussion will follow.
That same evening at 8:00 p.m., also at the IHC, there will be a staged reading of Professor King’s new play, Collections of Nothing More or Less, which is part adaptation of, part sequel to his book. All these events are free and open to the public.
This exhibition has been curated by Jasmine Bushehry and Rhiannon Gonzales, two undergraduate students in UCSB’s Museum Studies program.
William Davies King is a scholar of theater history and has published numerous books and articles, including Henry Irving’s “Waterloo,” which won the Joe A. Callaway Award for Best Book on Theater. His recent work has concentrated on the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, and his multimedia edition of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night won the 2016 PROSE award for Best Book in Literary Studies. He has been the dramaturg of numerous O’Neill plays and recently was a Travis Bogard Artist in Residence at Tao House, in Danville, California, where O’Neill lived during the peak years of his career. Professor King is grateful to Alex Regan of UCSB Library for sponsoring this exhibition and to Susan Derwin and the staff of the IHC for coordinating those events.