From love letters to shopping lists -- lost notes shape new London exhibition

Story highlights

  • A selection of notes from British artist's 1,500-note collection goes on display in London
  • Artist spent six years trawling streets finding scraps of paper detailing people's lives
  • In era of smartphones and social media, notes provide reminder of power of handwritten word

London (CNN)Ever written yourself a note, stuffed it in your pocket and headed out into the world only to discover that, somewhere along your journey, the piece of paper has disappeared?

If you live in the UK, there's a small chance that note has found its way into the hands of 23-year-old Daisy Bentley. For the past six years, the London-based artist has scoured the streets of cities and towns looking for those odd bits of paper that flutter to the ground when their owners aren't looking.
    Her quest has uncovered a fascinating, if idiosyncratic, collection of shopping lists, reminders, requests, love notes and motivational musings, all poignant pieces of others' lives. And now a gallery in London has put a selection on display for the public.
    "I wasn't intending to start a collection," she told CNN. "I always naturally collected things -- as many artists do -- and it got to the point that I was picking up every one I saw. Now I can barely walk down a street without picking up a scrap of paper."
    Bentley began collecting them six years ago after a note caught her eye one rainy night on a walk in her home town of Norwich, England.
    It's something she confesses has been a lifelong love -- keepsakes ranging from her mother's cutlery to her own dead goldfish have ended up carefully preserved in her collection for posterity.
    The notes project, she says, is a culmination of keeping her eyes on the sidewalk and spotting the little things that most people wouldn't notice as they walked down the street.
    "I get very odd looks from strangers," she admits, "but since I've made friends and families aware of the project, they get very excited when I find one while out with them."
    And while some dismiss such behavior as hoarding, Bentley feels it is part of human nature to hold on to items, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.
    "Humans want to collect and show to others," she says. "They want to share and learn from the things they have found."
    She says her collecting has led to interesting anthropological insights into the human condition. One of her favorite observations is the evolution of handwriting over the past few decades, from the beautiful copperplate penmanship of the '70s to modern teen girl love notes with hearts dotting i's and multiple exclamation marks.
    More recently, the note collection has led to an exhibition at Stour Space gallery in London's Hackney Wick, where Bentley works as a shop and studio manager. It showcases a small part of her 1,500-strong collection. The decision to display the notes came in part from a desire to put them back into the public space.
    "I always wanted to showcase them, to see what people's reactions were and if anyone would come forward," she said. So far two note owners -- one a colleague from the gallery and one an employee from a pub whose beer coasters she had found on her quest -- have revealed themselves as owners of notes. Bentley gave them framed prints as a thank you.
    And while some may find the notion of handwritten notes quaint, as social media and smartphones begin to replace handwriting, Bentley says she finds the note collection an interesting way for an artist to explore people's lives.
    "Technology is useful, but sometimes the simplest ways are still the best," she said.
    "I still usually draw a map rather than relying on technology to get to a place -- and many people are just the same."