From plastic bag collectors to puppeteers, this new exhibition delves into the quirky world of hand crafted hobbies

A new exhibition is taking a deep dive into the world of people’s hobbies, showcasing everything from plastic bag collections to miniature models and furniture up-cycled from broken skateboards.

From July 18 until October 20, Come As You Really Are will take over the Grade II listed Grants building in High Street, Croydon, in a celebration of people who dedicate their spare time to making, modifying and collecting.

Presented by award-winning artist and Spider-Man enthusiast Hetain Patel and commissioned by arts organisation Artangel, Come As You Really Are serves as a contemporary portrait of the UK as seen through the lens of the nation’s hobbies. 

At the heart of the project is a new film by Mr Patel, which elevates the outstanding creativity and passion that people put into their hobbies. 

Plastic bag collection by Ken Ford from Blackburn (Picture: Ken Ford)

Ms Patel said: “There is a vulnerability in sharing something so personal, which often happens in private spaces around the responsibilities of daily life. 

“But there is also a tremendous power in sharing collectively, which is at the heart of this project. I hope people join us in this celebration of the unstoppable nature of self-expression that is demonstrated by our hobbies.”

In January 2024, people from across the UK responded to a public call-out for information about their hobbies, sharing their personal stories of what these activities mean to them and why they pursue them with such dedication.

More than 1500 responses form the basis of the exhibition, which will feature familiar pastimes such as arts and crafts, knitting, Lego creations, Warhammer figurines and football shirt collecting alongside lesser-known hobbies, including micro-ceramics, car modification, chainmail jewellery and making 19th century banjos.

Mosaics by Gill Aitken from Lancaster (Picture: Gill Aitken)

The exhibition will feature thousands of unique hand-crafted objects loaned by hundreds of people of all ages, backgrounds and professions from across Britain. 

Some people started hobbies during lockdown, whilst others have been doing their hobbies for decades. Many find they offer a moment of escapism and provide an outlet from studying, work or caring duties, while for some they are a means of connecting with others.

Mariam Zulfiqar, director of Artangel, said: “The ambitious presentation of thousands of objects loaned by as many people embraces our differences, and invites us to rethink what we value in an age dominated by consumerism.

“This nationwide project has been made possible through a network of partners across the UK, and could only have been achieved with the generous contributions from the many hundreds of participants. 

“We hope people enjoy seeing this very public presentation of the activities that enrich our lives.”

Miniatures by Lee Smithson from Sheffield (Picture: Lee Smithson)

Mr Patel is an award-winning British-Gujarati artist and filmmaker. Much of his practice is derived from his childhood hobbies and interests, including his lifelong passion for Spider-Man. 

In 2013, the artist created his first sculpture, Fiesta Transformer, when he converted his car into a real-life Transformer robot with the help of his father.

Come As You Really Are is his most ambitious and far-reaching project to date.

Opened in 1895, the Grants building in Croydon was once home to a department store selling clothes by the Grants brothers who had a tailor’s shop across the road.

Croydon had the first major international airport in the UK, and Grants was visited by French aristocrats who would fly in to buy suits. 

The store didn’t recover after the Second World War and eventually closed its doors in 1987.  

The building’s facade still shows details of the goods that Grants sold, including “haberdashery” and “silks”. 

The public can still submit details about their hobbies for inclusion in future iterations of the project via thehobbycave.org.uk/

Pictured top: Puppets by Bee Daws from Gloucester (Picture: Esme Buxton)

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