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Selection of things, kind of nostalgic party (oma Lola's archive), 2009

Installation view at Calvin me, CBK Dordrecht.

My grandmother, Oma Lola, was the queen of recycling. It was her favourite occupation. Objects that came her way were often given a second, third, or even a fourth life. Oma Lola passed away in March 2009, and three months later I took it upon me to sort through the well-archived collection that was her life's work, using her beloved treasures in an installation of my own.

The Thingworld that she surrounded herself with for many years consisted for a great part of objects any other person wouldn't find worth keeping. The urge to keep and re-use seems to me a generational phenomenon. Elderly ladies (mostly ladies) who lived through the wars and have known times of scarcity do not like to throw anything away. Some of my grandmother's friends are known to dry teabags on lines in their kitchen, ready for re-use. Also my grandmother was careful not to waste any food and used old underwear to clean the house. However, my Oma Lola did not only keep things out of economical motives. She seemed to take a special liking to objects that were worn out or damaged: disregarded items, forgotten toys, dried make up, broken porcelain, torn pieces of cloth. She enjoyed emphasizing the handiness, the value, but certainly also the beauty of these objects. She would mention it, show it and share it. Under the guise of cutting costs or to spare the environment, hardly a thing was bad enough for the bin. We, her daughters and granddaughters, were often given strange third-hand gifts. But there were also many things that were her secret treasures, things I knew I could only admire once she was no longer there.

Shortly after her passing away, I started upon the arduous task of organising my grandmother's stuff. A thorough selection was needed. The contents of more than twenty cupboards, all cleverly and carefully stashed, had to be closely examined. What was going to survive and get a new destination and what was going to be thrown away? The higher the waste-percentage, the more suitable the object would be for my installation. My grandmother had an unusual way of archiving; she would rarely sort things by type, instead she would label things with written notes, where did the vase in question come from, who dropped it and what could it be used for next? Soon I began to see relationships between items and started to organise the objects in my own way; I made my own families. Things are one another's sisters, brothers or distant cousins; they improve each other or weaken the other. They look alike in shape or function or they need each other and are complementary. Thus my de-evolution of things came into being. The winners, the survivors, were the weakest, the useless, the faintest. They obtained the absolute eternal status.

My grandmother invented a new purpose for many objects; a pair of laddered tights was easily transformed into a hair ribbon. The core of her creativity was to keep things alive. I don't think she was entirely aware of her own fascination, her fondness for damaged items. Saving things was her addiction, she couldn't help it and would get deeply sad when she would find someone to disregard or even despise an object. While she was still alive, her collection was a magical world in which I was allowed with her permission only. Under her auspices I opened cabin trunks, which seemed to have come freshly from Frankfurt am Main in 1937, to then enter a world that had been the same for eighty years.

Every day I spent alone in the house I went about my work less timidly. Suddenly I was allowed to look into everything I wanted to, to use the things I selected, to harbour them, to make an installation in which my grandmother's passion and my own dream world come together. For she inspired me and made me love these things.

Photography Peter Cox

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