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Just look for the guerrilla knitting: Art exhibit explores our obsession with collecting stuff

Tree trunks covered in brightly knitted cozies will mark the outside of a London gallery in an act of yarn bombing or guerrilla knitting — a practice used to draw attention to a space that might otherwise be overlooked.

The tree-sweaters will provide a colourful entrance to the exhibition Secret Stash: Accumulation, Hoarding and the Love of Stuff, opening Thursday at Western University’s McIntosh Gallery.

Art professor Kirsty Robertson and curator of the exhibition wanted to get her students thinking about the labour behind the items of clothing we so easily throw away, so she taught 63 of her students how to knit. Working since October, and with help from the community, the class amassed 160 squares for the installation, which kicks off at 11:30 a.m.

The exhibition inside the gallery takes a playful look at North American consumption habits, our drive to collect and hoard and the contradictory feelings of guilt, comfort and greed that these items produce.

“We experience joy in owning things, but also feel the burden or weight of having so many things,” said Robertson.

On the other hand, some have such limited resources that every item they own is carefully selected. Kelly Wood, an artist and professor at Western University, is showing large-scale photographs (four by six feet) of shopping carts that belong to inner city Vancouver homeless, as well as street workers involved in underground economy like collecting recyclables.

“There is a distinct personality to each cart. People collect in different ways and each stash tells a different story,” said Wood, who found and shot more than 100 carts for her series over a period of six years.

Another stash-worthy item showcased by the exhibition is the sticker. Brooklyn artist Payton Turner has wallpapered the inside of the McIntosh Gallery with about 100,000 individually placed retro stickers.

“As a child collecting stickers, I would hold onto them, and I hid them in a secret spot in my room,” said Turner, who started a design company specializing in original hand-drawn and hand-printed wallpapers called Flat Vernacular.

But what makes someone throw away a once coveted object, especially one that involved so much labour? Allyson Mitchell, a Toronto artist and professor at York University, explores this question through her art. Her installation Menstrual Hut Cinema is built out of heaps of colourful 1970s thrift store rugs, often handmade by women. Guests can crawl inside, cozy up on blankets and cushions and watch her films being screened inside.

The Secret Stash opening reception takes place on Thursday at 8 p.m. at McIntosh Gallery (1151 Richmond Street) and runs until April 6.

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