Sunday, April 10, 2016

Old but not Precious

"One man's treasure is another's trash." 

I do not think it is too harsh to say that today's North American, and perhaps even Western, culture is disposable.  We are systemically forced to discard a phone, toaster or television that we purchased a few years or dreadfully even months ago and replace it with the latest model.
This culture effects us all in countless ways. Hoarders, collectors, minimalists, consumers: we label our relationship to stuff, justifying our behaviour one way or another.  
My own relationship to things has evolved dramatically in the 20 years I have lived on my own. I love old/vintage things. I grew up appreciating antiques.  I adore flea markets and thrift shops. There are whole professions dedicated to the recording, preserving and caring of vintage treasures.
And then there is just old stuff. 

The linens in these photos are such items.  They are old textiles; I would date them to early 20th century.  A cotton skirt, silk blouse, and two cotton pillow cases edged with hand-crocheted lace.  They are stained, ripped, they smelled of moth balls and the blouse has several holes that have darkened to a crispy brown at the edges.  As vintage items they are not worth preserving.  A museum would de-accession these items.  

But for some artists these items are valuable. While they are not only historically significant in their own right, they also carry stories that can be transformed. In and of themselves they are not precious.  No one will buy them for lots of money at auction, no one has kept them carefully preserved in a cedar lined chest and most would discard them. Their decomposition would resume and eventually their fibres would mingle with all organic organisms.

Since these items were sent to me I plan to transform them. They will be made into art.  This practice of transforming old textiles is a common practice these days in the textile art community. I follow several talented artists who bring new life to unwanted fibres. Amy Meissner has created a crowdsourcing project and people from all over the world are sending her hand work from doilies to needlepoints. Susan Lenz uses old garments for rusting and natural dying. These pieces are unwanted clothing that is then used for installations or cut up for art quilts.

As for what my old but not precious items will become I am still pondering.  Gently washing them and hanging them in the sun to dry was my first interaction with them.  As an aside if you have vintage linens that you want to preserve hanging them in the sun is not recommended.  The beauty of linens drying on a clothesline in the sun was too hard for me to pass up.  I think they will tell me the story that they need to tell in time.  I am grateful that art offers up a place for old things to transform and that I get to use my own hands to transform them.

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