John Reuter, “Megan Riffe Collects Things,” Sandpoint Reader, April 5, 2007

The following article, written by John T Reuter, appeared in The Sandpoint Reader on April 5, 2007.

collected article photo

Megan Riffe collects things. “Same tool, same material, but a different craftsman and an entirely different byproduct,” said local multimedia artist Megan Riffe. When Riffe speaks of “byproducts” in this way it might sound like she is referring to cabinets or furniture. She’s not.
 Rather she’s talking about the wood shavings created inadvertently by craftsmen when they create such products. For three years Megan Riffe has collected these wood shavings. She now has “stacks and stacks” of them organized into bins. “You can tell the difference between wood shavings depending on which person was using the tool,” she said. “One person has this signature style…and their shavings look different from everyone else’s.”
Admittedly this is at least a mildly interesting observation, but it hardly seems worth three years of investigation and devotion (never mind the space they take up in her home). So what is it that drove Riffe to collect so many shavings for so long? The same thing that drives any of us to collect anything: she really likes them.
“I think they’re beautiful,” Riffe said. Why and how these wood shavings are beautiful has continually expanded for Riffe as her collection grows. “The collection means eight million different things to me every day,” she said. In our conversation, Riffe particularly emphasized how the shavings represented the process of creation rather than the final product. “The collection shows me evidence of creative output, of creative flow. It shows me that just the process of creation itself is beautiful,” she said.
The idea that a collection of wood shavings is beautiful may be difficult to swallow. However, a visit to Riffe’s show at Racks Fifth Avenue, opening Friday, April 6, will likely change your mind. The show, entitled “Collected,” features the “stacks and stacks and bins” of wood shavings Riffe has collected. Although they don’t overwhelm the space, there are enough of them to make a statement.
Black marker drawings – almost scribbles – on long sheets of paper accompany the collection. Their lines imply the motions that created them and help viewers understand the active nature of Riffe’s collection: that though the wood-shaving filled containers now sit stationary, their contents were originally created by motion.
Combining the feeling of the marker drawings and the stacks of bins are a series of chandeliers or hanging sculptures (at press time Riffe hadn’t yet to name them). Hanging by a metal chain from a relatively untouched piece of wood are round clear bins filled with, what else, wood shavings (actually some of the bins are filled with other materials, like metal screws, but each container is filled with near identical objects).
Moved by a breeze, or an accidental bump from an arts columnist, the round bins sway, revealing the sense of motion that originally created their contents. At the same time the bins remain connected by the metal chain to the piece of wood, another symbol perhaps of the connection between the shavings and their origin.
Combined, the various components of “Collected” have a gentle power. The exhibit certainly pushes the boundary of Sandpoint’s art scene, but persuasively rather than aggressively. The show plays the part of a collector tenderly and seductively
sharing the finest objects from a gradual accumulation.
Since viewing “Collected,” I find myself – like Riffe – discovering eight million new meanings for the exhibit on a regular basis. I’ve hesitated in this article to describe Riffe’s collection as art – although I certainly believe it is art, in fact likely to be the best solo display of art that will occur in Sandpoint this year – because I think that makes it too easy to separate the collection and Riffe’s urge to collect from our own personal experiences.
To me, the heart of the exhibit is its paradoxical, simultaneous endorsement and renouncement of capitalism – which really is essentially the collection of stuff. On one hand, “Collected” seems to tell you to go for it, accumulate what you like, whatever that is, having great masses of things can prove powerful. On the other, the objects collected in this case are wood shavings. Wood shavings. That’s a far cry from what, as capitalists, we’re used to trying to collect: money. The show seems to suggest that the pursuit (or collection) of wealth is equally ridiculous.
In the end, by suggesting that all collections are ridiculous, Riffe’s “Collected” gives us permission to gather up whatever might strike our fancy – whether that’s stamps or yarn or Christmas ornaments….or chickens. “I collected chickens when I was twelve,” says Riffe, meaning any object with an image of a chicken on it. “It was really short lived. I think wood shavings are better.”

Megan Riffe’s “Collected” will have an opening reception Friday, April 6 from 6 to 9pm at Racks Fifth Avenue (502 Cedar St) complete with bubbly and brew. This show is highly recommended, although it should be noted that the material, though not controversial, is difficult.