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| Art |

Kerry Phillips Turns the Lowly Junk Drawer Into a Treasure Trove

Artist Kerry Phillips at her installation An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer) in the Design District.
Artist Kerry Phillips at her installation An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer) in the Design District.
Photo by Isabella Marie Garcia

For those visiting the Miami Design District, the luxury of the designer-store window displays becomes an experience-filled of "look but do not touch." In the neighborhood, it's rare to find yourself in a space that looks away from the need for the next best thing and toward the practice of upcycling what we once had.

Kerry Phillips' installation at Paradise Plaza, An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer), hodge-podges together the notion of collecting (or holding on to) objects and an exploration of the psychology behind that act.

“I’ve always valued trash and what gets left behind. I love the chipping off of paint or tiles falling off. Those layers of decay, of how items are made and fall apart,” Phillips says.

It all began for Phillips on a holiday return to her childhood home in Texas to visit her parents. In search of an everyday necessity, she found herself rifling through the junk drawer she had grown up with her entire life.

“I just was fascinated by all of these objects. I hadn’t lived there in more than ten years, but I was so intimately connected to all of the items," she explains. "It just overwhelmed me. A paintbrush that I likely used when I was five — or at least the same kind. The random who's-it or what’s-it that broke or came off something that you probably might need at some point. Old receipts and manuals for kitchen appliances that weren’t even a part of the household anymore. The ashtray that my parents kept for my aunt and uncle when they would come to visit."

Detail of An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer)
Detail of An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer)
Photo by Isabella Marie Garcia

That accidental encounter would manifest as the genesis of the "junk drawer" in a 2011 exhibition; the most recent iteration took form in a terminal at the Miami International Airport this summer.

A Miami-based artist who has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions in South Florida and internationally, Phillips takes a step further with these accidental collections. Taking matters into her own hands, she molds and shapes the found objects into collaged sculptures and wall displays. Throughout the installation space, the idea of the junk drawer unravels, quite literally, into several collections of "junk" — from piles of yarn laid onto a carpet to a series of lamps hung upside down in a makeshift chandelier that greets you as you enter.

Every abundant offering has a story behind it. The landline telephones all belonged to the late father of one of Phillips’ friends (who found a phone in every room of his home after he died). The tapestries that hang throughout the space are made from carpets cut and pasted together to create group portraits. There’s even a piece that Phillips has kept rolled up in a corner, unsure of whether to include it in the show. She unrolls the item, a collaborative work with artist Mary Babcock, which is made entirely of roadmaps woven together into a massive ridged collage of colors and cartographical elements. The maps, collected from friends and friends of friends, were found in a warehouse, having seemingly been abandoned.

Detail of An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer)
Detail of An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer)
Photo by Isabella Marie Garcia

The careless nature of junk itself takes on a new meaning in a wall display of red spray-painted items that Phillips has laid flat and flocked — "flocking" being a process in which millions of synthetic or natural fibers are attached to a surface.

“It’s almost like these objects know they’re not meant to be coated excessively. They reject the very nature of being decorated and immortalized,” she notes as she touches the display, describing the irresistible tactile nature of her work and admitting that she breaks her own rules by allowing visitors to touch the display.

At the exhibition and on her website, Phillips invites visitors both physical and virtual to share their own junk-drawer experiences via written word or photographs. And so the universality of junk itself goes beyond the objects and into the stories they carry.

Detail of An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer)
Detail of An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer)
Photo by Isabella Marie Garcia

“Why do I brake for trash? The minute I pick something up, I start to form a relationship with it, and then I start to realize and ask myself, Does everyone have a junk drawer?" she muses aloud. "They may call it something different, not assign it a name, but there’s a human need, like touch, to tell a story and have it be heard. Through sharing these stories of value, of the junk, and these accidental collections, the value is exchanged and kept by the listener of these stories. Sharing our stories fosters and creates compassion. I’m using objects, but I’m thinking of the bigger story. All of these objects are meaningless, but there’s this point of connection through the object and the ways we store the memories tied to them.”

Whether Marie Kondo-ing out your home or spring-cleaning amid a pandemic, An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer) is the space to share the psychological tendencies behind attachment to the things we keep.

An Accidental Collection (The Junk Drawer). Through Friday, October 30 at Paradise Plaza, Suite 127, 151 NE 41 St., Miami; kerryphillipsart.com. Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

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