Queer collecting talk at LMA

Firstly, I must apologise for how long it has been since I have updated the blog, LGBT History Month was manic, and alongside writing a chapter about queer oral histories and a little trip to Paris I have barely had time to formulate my thoughts, let alone write them down.

Just a quick blog post to thank everyone who came to my talk last Wednesday about Queer Collecting at the London Metropolitan Archives, and of course to Jan at LMA for allowing me to share my research, and to Howard for facilitating the evening.

As always, the LMA LGBT History Club served as a great forum to share ideas and to generate discussion, and also as an opportunity to run my research-in-progress past people who aren’t my supervisors, which is a really valuable exercise for any research students.

I always like to use literature in my research, and this talk was no different, it was named after a quote from Utz by Bruce Chatwin ‘The right and the need to touch’, and I also mentioned Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, when talking about taste and gender. The quote I referred to was from when the protagonist Mrs de Winter is describing Rebecca’s morning room, which she describes as “a woman’s room” (you can see a picture of me gesticulating wildly about it above), the quote is as follows:

“This was a woman’s room, graceful, fragile, the room of someone who had chosen every particle of furniture with great care, so that each chair, each vase, each small, infinitesimal thing should be in harmony with one another, and with her own personality. It was as though she who had arranged this room had said: ‘This I will have, and this, and this,’ taking piece by piece from the treasures in Manderley each object that pleased her best, ignoring the second-rate, the mediocre, laying her hand with sure certain instinct only upon the best. There was no intermingling of style, no confusing of period, and the result was perfection in a strange and starling way, not coldly formal like the drawing-room shown to the public, but vividly alive, having something of the same glow and brilliance that the rhododendrons had, massed there, beneath the window.”

This provided an interesting starting point to looking at the gendered nature of taste and of collecting, and I elaborated by looking more closely at the research of Susan Pearce, Belk and Wallendorf (some references beneath). I then argued that collecting was a queer act, that required a collector to be gender atypical in behaviour and ended by looking at the survey I conducted with over 60 LGBTQ identified people who owned collections.

I wanted to show a video clip of a documentary called Signs of the Times from the early 90s, but unfortunately it wouldn’t work. It’s very camp and funny, so I thought I would share it here.

‘signs of the times’ documentary clip

Thanks again to everyone who came along, I hope it was useful/interesting/thought provoking/mildly amusing. I will be updating the blog more over the coming days as I have a lot to report back on, including the LMA LGBT conference which was a great success, a recent meeting with Surat Knan of Rainbow Jews, the IOE LGBTQ & Friends group and the events we held for LGBT history month and more!

Belk, R. W. and Wallendorf, M. (1999). ‘Of mice and men: gender identity in collecting’. In S. M. Pearce (Ed.), Interpreting Objects and Collections (pp. 240-253). London: Routledge.

Pearce, S. M. (1994). ‘Leicester Contemporary Collecting Project’s questionnaire’. In S. M. Pearce (Ed.), Interpreting Objects and Collections (pp. 291-295). Oxon: Routledge.

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