During ten days of intimate performances in living rooms and kitchens, Joshua Sofaer and his mobile museum of unique collections, shared stories of the wonderful collectors of Leeds.
Studio Photos – Lizzie Coombes, 2020 for Compass Festival
From left to right: Stigma, expanded polystyrene coated in saffron powder / A Woman’s Touch, miniature dresses from the 1953 musical film Calamity Jane / Match Boogie, matchbox with still images from 1941 film Ball of Fire / Dream Spell Amulets, a spell kit inspired by 90s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer / The Cat’s Whisker, an individual cat whisker / 7-Eleven Receipt, a 7-Eleven receipt from one of the stores in Nikko, Japan, dated 17th October 2004 / Hospitality Gift, a feather made from the wrapping paper of Pu-er tea.
Some people are collectors, others are not. Some people have the urge to rummage, root out, chase variations and multiples. Others can be satisfied with just one.
In 2019, artist Joshua Sofaer, and Compass Director Peter Reed, travelled across Leeds meeting collectors, sipping tea and listening to stories and reflections of lives spent collecting.
Joshua then created a mobile museum comprising 14 separate artworks, each representing a collection and collector he had met. Using a variety of materials and processes, objects which sometimes have little to no monetary value have been transformed into museum standard artefacts, worthy of the high value we should place on people, their stories and personal collections. Housed within a mobile Wunderkammer designed and made with Plaey, the museum then moved house to house, with the artist as the receptionist, curator and guide. A body-shaped space at the heart of the cabinet allows the artist to embody each collector and to tell the story of their collection.
Museums in People’s Homes invites us into the “often highly private space of the collection and performs it” (Knifton, 2021). The stories behind each object in the museum have been written by both the artist and the collector together. The audience comes to learn the origins of each collection and also the connections formed over time with people, places and other objects. It becomes an exploration of habits, compulsions, diary making and the small things that can bring people joy. As Kathleen H says about collecting, “It adds a layer to life… it’s like a treasure hunt all the time”.
Tracey D collects memorabilia of the 1990s hit teen television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She has a ‘Buffy room’ in her house in Leeds. Tracy worked closely with Joshua on the creation of her own unique spell kit, ‘Dream Spell Amulets’, as a way to represent her love for the series. The aim of the spell is to activate empathy and equity by giving those cast under it, the opportunity to inhabit life experiences different from their own.
Alongside the personal approach to gathering and presenting the stories of the collections, the physical structure of the museum itself goes against the traditional idea of a museum. During the tour Joshua is able to remove objects from the cabinet, breaking the boundary so often present in museum visits, and we can take a closer look at each item. The environment we find ourselves in during the tour is also one we recognise and have a significant attachment to, our parents’ kitchen or our best friend’s living room. Positioning the performance and museum in this way “demands simultaneously that is and this is not a museum, this is and this is not a collection, this is and this is not a work of art” (Knifton, 2021).
In summer 2023, Museums in People’s Homes was welcomed into households across Leeds. Hosts invited a small group of guests to see Joshua perform a guided tour of the Museum. It’s a unique experience to witness the six floors of the museum stacked up one on top of the other, the lights switched on, and the tour-guide step up onto his personal stage (a pair of very high Japanese wooden sandals). The most special of all is listening to him tell the stories of all the collectors and their collections and seeing how the stories resonate.
If you are interested in learning more about each of the 14 collections and their collectors, we are now selling the Museums in People’s Homes catalogue which you are able to purchase and delivered to your home using this link here.
As for the museum itself, we are currently housing it at our Compass office and we can assure you it’s as welcome here as it was across all the houses of Leeds. We are currently seeking a forever home for it and are in the middle of some exciting discussions regarding its permanent residence.