Collector at heart contributes to artistic festival

We’ve all got one — that collection of something we love. Whether it’s books or baseball cards, caps or comic books, it seems to be part of human nature to find and gather things that make us happy. Local artist Marlena Wyman is exploring the relationship of people to their collections in her latest exhibit, “The Effect of Collected Memory on the Adorned Body,” on display in association with the Heart of the City Festival, at Mile Zero Dance studio from June 4 until July 31.

The work consists of two Styrofoam human torsos, one male and one female, adorned with hundreds of collected items such as pins, buttons and costume jewelry. Most of the items, which cover every inch of the figures, have been donated by others. Many of the donors have inherited costume jewelry from loved ones, and haven’t known exactly what to do with it. These are items which are low in monetary value, but high in emotional content, the collected items that were dear to those who were dear to us.

Marlena Wyman's 2016 exhibit for the Heart of the City festival
In the male form, there is movement even without arms or legs. Photo: Erin Wallace

Marlena says she has no particular design in mind as she adds the items to the figures; she generally starts from the top and works down, placing items where she feels they fit best. The more beautiful pieces tend to be placed on the front. There are necklaces arranged to hang around the shoulders and back, which enhance the gracefulness of the poses, and seem to add a feeling of movement. This celebration of movement and the human form is what makes their placement at Mile Zero Dance Studio so appropriate. The exhibit will be open to the public during Mile Zero’s office hours (Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 10816 95 St.), and their placement in the window means they will be visible to a large audience. There will be no barriers around the torsos; the viewer will be able to get right up close to see the tiny, intricate objects that make up the figures.  

Marlena Wyman's 2016 exhibit for the Heart of the City festival
The hanging necklaces add gracefulness to the female form. Photo: Erin Wallace

Marlena says she has found that all of these tiny pieces come with their own stories. “The objects we collect have their own personality and memory embedded in them,” she says. People collect partly because of the thrill of hunting for and finding those coveted objects, but also because adding something you love to your collection provides a feeling of well-being and happiness. Marlena is finding that gathering the collected items of others creates a similar feeling; adding the objects to the torsos has become a soothing, zen-like experience for her. She says she feels compelled to fill every available inch of the torsos — the pieces will never be “done” as long as there is space to fit something in. The exhibition is a good chance for those who contributed their collected items to see those objects in a new way, with a new life, and for everyone to share in this collaborative project.

Marlena Wyman with her Heart of the City festival exhibit.
The artist in her studio with her work. Photo: Erin Wallace

As an artist, Marlena is more accustomed to working solo — this collaboration with donors is a new experience for her. But as an archivist with the Provincial Archives of Alberta, she is used to being surrounded by, and preserving, the evidence of the lives of strangers. This exhibit has become a “collaborative memorial project,” a way to humanize collected objects and honour those who collected them. It is a celebration of the human form using the memories embedded in inanimate objects. And Marlena Wyman is a worthy custodian of those memories.