I found this old wooden chocolate box at my Abuela's house on my recent visit to Uruguay. She said my Abuelo who passed away just over 10 years ago had a habit of collecting all sorts of little bits of seemingly useless things. I found all manner of things in this box including bits of elastic, little religious medals, buttons, coins, old telephone tokens, chains, needles, magnets, nails and even a set of cufflinks. Abuela said she had kept a few of his little treasure collections which he would put into old jars, tins and boxes like this. He didn't sort any of his collections. He was a bit of a hoarder but whenever someone was looking for a spare button or nail or piece of chain or elastic he always had just the right thing handy. Because most of the family thought it was just rubbish that he kept round, none ever really touched his collected items and so they've survived relatively untouched. Only he knew exactly where everything was, which jar or tin had what.
My grandparents grew up poor and went through much hardship throughout their life. They made a living by cleaning, cooking and looking after well-to-do people's homes and children, whilst raising 5 children of their own. I find it interesting to look back at the lives my grandparents lived and compare that to some the material remains and traces of their experience. I wonder if they ever got to eat the expensive fine chocolates that came in the Felfort box or if the luxury for them was to have found or being given the box once the chocolates had been enjoyed by someone else.
I'm still trying to work out why it is that I am attracted to these things, why I seem to place such significance on what to someone else is just a box of rubbish. I'm not sure its as simple as putting it down to nostalgia. I have seen so much of myself reflected in these material traces, that I cant help but think they are instrumental not only my to my sense of identity but my ability to then process and articulate my experience. I feel as if I again need to revisit Susan Stewart's book On Longing to find better understand my relationship to these objects and how they in turn inform my art practice.
I left the box behind in Uruguay in Abuela's safekeeping, but she encouraged me to take something with me. I have brought back with me the small religious medallions of various saints and places. I'm not quite sure how or if I will use them in my artwork, or if I will see them differently now once I unpack them and see them in a new context. I suppose for now they'll just be added to my own collection, which is very similar to my Abuelo's: messy and un-categorized.