Smokey, Come Home The Lost Art of Ian Phillips
Published Nov 01, 2002Collecting is as much about rescuing as it is about gathering. Ian Phillips collects lost pet posters. As the creative force behind the small press outfit Pas de Chance, this Toronto-based artist is known for his elaborate, hand-made books, as well as his numerous collections and obsessions. One of his books, which began as a mail art project, had Phillips soliciting other artists worldwide, asking for missing pet posters from their neighbourhoods. The promise was that a book would be compiled and sent to each contributor, featuring reprints of the various posters. Soon, the faces of missing pets from as far as Japan and Argentina began finding their way to Phillips' mailbox. And soon, he began the tedious process of hand printing and binding the book, each copy featuring a dog biscuit affixed to the cover. He called it Snacks. Now, a decade later, Phillips' mailbox continues to yield posters from around the world, and what began as a fun pet-project has since produced an overwhelming collection. With no viable way to independently publish a second edition of Snacks, Phillips was approached by Princeton Architectural Press with an offer to publish a new edition, entitled Lost.
A visit to his apartment reveals stacks of books in various stages of assembly; his living space also showcases an immense collection of other peculiar cultural relics. "Most of the stuff I collect is stuff that disappears," he says. "I don't want to let go of anything." From other peoples' forgotten postcards and old love letters, to yellowing photos in old family albums, Phillips is fascinated with all things forgotten and discarded; the modest artefacts that, while overlooked by most, allow him the privilege of, "peeking into the past that you don't see anywhere else, the everyday lives of people." Part voyeur, part archivist, Phillips searches for pieces of an authentic and collective history, no matter how banal or mundane. "You can see movies and read books from the past," he argues, "but they're not real. These are real.
"Home movies are great," he exclaims, explaining that old reels can be found in thrift stores, antique markets, and yard sales. While most couldn't stomach the thought of watching even their own family's home movies, Phillips and friends hold movie nights with films starring strangers. Often, he hints, these movies can hold surprises and twists more shocking than most blockbusters. "There's one we just watched," he says, "and there are all these family scenes, and kids running around, and they're going on their vacation, and all of a sudden there's this three second shot of this woman holding her dress up and you can see her panties and you can see her vagina right through her panties, and then it goes back to kids playing in the backyard." This sort of mystery often leads Phillips to create his own story lines and construct his own histories for these people and families he's never met. For Phillips, it's the unseen minutia of daily life that fascinates. "It's the same Christmas tree every year but the people in the images just keep getting older and older and older."
And so, Phillips has taken to conserving this history with his books. Several titles published by Pas de Chance ([email protected]) focus on this everyday past, aiming to preserve it, while leaving room for curiosity, imagination and the proliferation of new myths. Like his other collections of letters, postcards, and photos, the pet posters offer a novel glimpse into the personal lives of strangers. He likens the posters to open love letters something so personal yet, through desperation, are photocopied and left out in public space. And like most everything he collects, Phillips notes that, "Missing pet posters are ephemeral. You see them on the telephone pole for a couple of weeks and then they're gone forever." But with the recent publication of Lost, he remarks, "This way they're preserved. They'll be around for a long time."