Friday, July 17, 2009

The burden of the past

In New York I went to MoMA, where Beijing based artist Song Dong has an exhibition called "waste not" this summer. In this work he celebrates the values of past generations, by offering to our curious eyes that which is today considered waste.

Pieces of fabric used for clothes, saved in case of patches or alterations, old shopping bags, a broken kitchen oven, bottles, jars, boxes, ribbons, worn shoes, the exhibition was a large display of what you can find when you empty a house after the passing of its inhabitant, particularly if it was one of the thrifty ones of older generations.

This week my sisters and I have been looking through the relics of our mother, slowly sorting through her treasures. Modern-day women as we are, we are throwing it all away, wasting, as her treasures have been going to waste over the last 20 years. But each piece has its own history, poignant reminders of our past. And it's not just that we recognize the curtains, the old clothing, the boxes and bags, but we all know how it could have been used. We spent long hours cutting the old clothing into material for rugs, we made a lot of our own clothes and clothes for each other, we knitted, and remember the many spools of yarn - what they were used for, and what they were supposed to be used for. We know the year the old marmelade was made, we know the pieces of wood and the materials, and even the many rocks of our mother's collection for the hobby she wanted to engage in, cutting and polishing stones, are objects wose potential we know. This house was one of activity, of reclaiming the broken, the torn and the spoiled as well as of creating new things from nothing. The garden is a powerful reminder, even in its neglected state it hides secrets of herbs, berries and salad leaves.

Now we are carrying all of this away, throwing it out, and even in this context I choose for display a picture which does not fully display the disorder, the sad state of all these resources from the past. It helps, as I do this, to think about the exhibition at MoMA, which somehow prepared me for this process. My mother could have filled that museum floor with all she had stored up. And oddly, I wish I could have shown it to her, let her see how stored resources can be both trash and art at the same time.

I suspect the rest of my life will be filled with moments like this one, when I wish I could have shown this or that to somebody I have lost. It's part of still being alive.

1 comment:

M-H said...

Thank you for this lovely post.