Thursday, January 28, 2010

What's left behind

Christian Boltanski's installation in The Grand Palais, Paris

I read a really great article last Sunday about an artist called Christian Boltanski. This is a photo of his installation which is running in Paris. Yes, that is a mountain of clothes. He has made up 69 quadrants of clothes as well as the gluttonous jumble of clothes at the top of the room. As well as it being every hoarder's dream, the article gave me pause for thought about the house I'm living in at the moment. Have a look at the article here if you have the time.

Two Summers ago my two sisters and I moved into a house that belonged to our grand aunts. Our grand aunts were also three sisters who had lived together all their lives. So there was an element of a Grimm fairytale about the three of us moving in. Like a sickening game of Here We Go 'Round The Mulberry Bush. But we were immeasurably grateful, all being broke to the ropes and giddy to have the chance to live with each other again.

We swept out the cobwebs, cut the grass, put a new lick of paint on the face of the house and a fresh load of washing out on the line.

And then..we had to address the remnants left behind. The ladies' clothes and hairbrushes, perfume bottles and letters, diaries and photographs and all the in between treasured items which were held on to preciously, wrapped up in layers and layers of old newspapers, made into wallpaper parcels.

Stacks of their silent treasure made into mountains over so many years.

It was so like our Granny's house, their sister. Their crockery, the formica table, the layout of the house, even the back garden and the carpet protector in the corridor. But particularly, the same impulse to hoard everything, even the elastic band from around a chicken's waist.

A dusty cardboard box, softened with age, would let out a sigh and an all too memorable smell when opened. Letters inside from their brother on the Missions or beautiful John Hinde postcards sent to their mother (our Great grandmother), who had also lived in the house with them.

Laura Cumming, who wrote the article about Boltanski, writes beautifully about the effect such objects can have:

...these objects and images, no matter their provenance, were inevitably powerful for the sympathetic mind can hardly help but reconstruct a life from the smallest and most trivial of relics. Pawned brooches, lost umbrellas, dogeared telephone books with their intensely intimate yet resolutely impersonal listings: your mind would rush in, imagining all these other people in other places. It did not matter that the evidence was meagre, partial, perhaps entirely specious, because the objects themselves were real, had once belonged to real livings beings. That their owners were unknown equated very precisely with the universality of the evidence – a watch, a coat – and the poignant truth that one could only mourn the unknown through an act of the imagination.


  1. as always....some freakin awesome labels..."formica table" + google =the genius of maeve bates.

    FOX TEAPOT!!!!!!!

  2. This is a beautiful article Maeve Bates, thank you.