The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2016 > Shelf Life – The Ornaments Are Talking To Me

Shelf Life – The Ornaments Are Talking To Me


Clarke’s Cabinets of Time Lost, Curated by Mark Clarke
15 October - 12 February 2017 

Are you a collector or hoarder of treasured or favoured items? Does handling them trigger memories, whether happy or sad? How do you remember loved ones after they are gone?  

Mark Clarke’s innovative new exhibition challenges our perception of collecting and remembering, and art versus accumulation. In a series of surprisingly cheery assemblage sculptures Belfast born Mark ponders the theme of life, love and loss. Using familiar mantelpiece ornaments, junk shop tat and car boot treasures, these poetic interpretations of the homemade shrine explore dementia, obsession, good and bad taste, fine art versus outsider art, displacement behaviour and celebrity culture.  

Mark Clarke’s latest piece of work, that takes the form of five monumental, crowded shelves, was inspired by his mother, who died of Alzheimer's, and is a poetic reinterpretation of her homemade shrines. The idea for Clarke's vast assemblages came to him when clearing out the family house in Belfast after her death. The shelves are arranged in various themes: Dinnertime, Once Upon A Time, Time To Kill, Showtime and Prime Time and are made up of over 1000 disparate individual objects. Although no one piece is of any  particular financial value, every piece is imbued with imagined memories, a modern day momento mori. The objects that range from tourist dolls and China dogs to tambourines and paint tins, form an unexpected counterpoint to the fancy French collection of Joséphine Bowes, who collected her own possessions for the The Bowes Museum founded in the 19th century.

MARK CLARKE  BIO
Belfast born Mark Clarke is an assemblage artist known for his complex 3D narratives that are a collage of anachronistic cultural references. Notable works include Clarke’s Cabinets of Cures commissioned by Wellcome Collection, Belfast Boy: Clarke’s Cabinet of Home, Heart and Hearth for The Holburne Museum and Clarke’s Cabinet of Eyries for Alexander McQueen. 

Clarke studied Visual Communications at Edinburgh College of Art. After graduation he worked on a wealth of media titles from The Guardian to Honey magazine. In the 1990’s he contributed to many TV and film projects with clients including Dreamworks Productions, BBC and Carlton Television. 

In 2009 he relocated to the west country to concentrate on more long-term art based projects. He works out of his studio overlooking Bristol and divides his time between his Somerset home, London and his native Belfast.

Related Events


Dementia Friendly Day, 11 November, 11.00 - 5.00,
Come and experience this exhibition on a quiet day in the Museum, with a higher level of lighting.

The Alzheimer’s Society: Singing for the Brain, 11 November, 10.30 - 12.00 
Members of the Barnard Castle Singing for the Brain group will be meeting for a special Remembrance Day singalong in the lovely setting of the Museum’s Jubilee Room. There will also be the opportunity to view this exhibition with Nicky Tulloch from The Alzheimer’s Society. Those of you who are interested or potentially interested in joining in with Singing for the Brain, or bringing a friend or relative to the group in the future are welcome to attend without paying Museum admission. 

Image Captions


DINNER TIME © John Taylor

The Bowes Museum grounds are open!


Due to the government announcement on Thursday 17 December, that County Durham is to remain in COVID tier 3 restrictions, The Bowes Museum unfortunately will remain closed to all visitors. However, the grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 - 4.00 daily, and we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, two spring trails and outdoor guided tours are available from 29 March 2021.

As we have already been shut for a number of weeks and there is much uncertainty around possible further restrictions, we have decided to use this period to undertake some work in Café Bowes, alongside performing some much-needed structural repairs to the building, notably to the windows. January and February are usually quieter times for the Museum, often due to severe weather, so we believe that this is the best time to carry out such works with the least amount of disruption to our visitors.

We have therefore decided to remain closed for a period of four weeks following any near-future tier 2 announcement from the government, as this will allow us time to deep clean the Museum prior to reopening our doors once again. We will, of course, keep you updated as the guidelines change.

Your ongoing support during these unprecedented times is hugely appreciated and we very much look forward to welcoming you back into the building as early as possible in 2021.

We hope to be able to offer a few COVID-safe outdoor events over the coming months, about which we shall make further announcements as soon as possible.