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Kitschy Collectables: Collecting Culture

Embrace your inner clutter freak

By Entertainment, SAIC

Illustration by Hailey Kim.

From knick-knacks and trinkets to fine art and fishing gear, people collect everything under the sun.

In the post-pandemic years, collecting culture is all the rage. Prior to the pandemic, the content of collecting was a facet of fandom. Creators made content about collections to further interact with the communities they built around specific media. It was essentially a sub-culture within fandoms.

Now, the content made around collections has been served from fandom and is unleashed into the open internet. There are hundreds of social media accounts entirely dedicated to people’s personal collections, including the woman whose whole brand is collecting “The Wizard of Oz” merch, the man with the largest collection of “Titanic” VHS tapes, and the TikToker who’s obsessed with a discontinued color of Crayola crayon.

I’ve personally amassed a number of collections since my childhood, some of which were exacerbated by the pandemic. Specifically, my collection of My
Chemical Romance memorabilia has grown into a horrendous beast that plagues my dorm room. What started as a fondness for a teenage obsession turned into a massive multimedia collection finding its way onto every surface possible — including the clothes on my own body.

Pandemic collecting aside, artists connect to collections because we often curate our work into collections for galleries. At SAIC, we as a community become part of a collection — whether that’s through the BFA show, the MFA show, the performance showcase, or any of the other department-specific shows that mark student work.

But what are the members of the SAIC community curating into personal collections? To find out, I interviewed six students about what they personally collect.

Laz/Valentine Kilmer (BFA 2024) collects “Archie” comics and Hot Wheels cars. Spencer Creighton (BFA 2027) collects taxidermy. Kathy Ryu (BFA 2025) collects buttons. Gigi Droop (BFA 2026) collects Monster High dolls. Matthew Mikalonis (BFA 2024) collects antique objects, including butter pats. And Kristen Lee, one of F Newsmagazine’s distributors, collects umbrellas, hats from musicals, plants, and Tomorrow x Together’s albums.

Collecting as a process takes time. No army assimilates overnight, and no Funko pop collection just materializes on a shelf. All of the students I interviewed have been collecting a specific thing for over two years, and almost all of them (five out of six) have been generally collecting for over a decade.

Multiple students told me stories about their familial ties to their collection.

“Every time my family and I would go grocery shopping I would ask for one of the ‘Archie Double Digest’ comics they had by the checkout stand. I’d usually devour them within an hour of getting home from the store, reading the entire thing nonstop. As for the Hotwheels, I usually would get one whenever me and my mom had to go to the car auto parts store,” said Kilmer.

Mikalonis also had a familial connection to their collection. “I’ve been collecting since I was maybe around six. My parents were both antique dealers, so I would accompany them at antique bottle shows all the time growing up,” they said, adding, “That’s what really started my enjoyment of collecting antiques.”

Time is not the only resource necessary for curating a collection; one also needs places to source their collections.

Creighton said that he sources his taxidermy collection from local hunters, estate sales, antique stores, and oddity shops. Both Creighton and Droop also talked about using the internet — specifically, sites like Etsy, Mercari, and eBay — to expand their collections.

“I used to get [umbrellas] as a souvenir from places I visited. From Dollarama in Canada to a shop on the side of the street in Kyoto to a free umbrella I got while being an Orientation Leader at SAIC. I am just fond of all the memories they hold. It’s somehow always raining when I visit these places, so not only was it a souvenir it was also just practical,” said Lee.

It’s typical to have a favorite object from a collection.

“My favorite piece is a dark brown metal four-hole flat [button] that has a chipped edge,” said Ryu.

“My favorite piece is probably my Original 2010 Frankie Stein,” said Droop.

The collectors said their collections were also sources of inspiration.

“I do a lot of artwork with animals and I work with themes of death and decay, the taxidermy is very inspirational. I use my own collection as reference images sometimes,” said Creighton.

“By surrounding myself with objects that have their own stories, I feel it connects with the stories I create, and the history behind those stories, even if it is just one frame of said story, is much like how the antique object was likely one frame of the story of the person who originally owned it,” said Mikalonis.

Despite the myriad types of collections, personal stories, and reasons for collecting, there was a common thread throughout all of the interviews: sentimentality.

Every student cared deeply for their odd assortments of objects and used their collections as a source of entertainment and creation. Their individual curations connected to themes in their practice, and they all said they were in some way inspired by their collections

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