THEOne day in Évora, Portugal, my travel companions and I crossed a plaza hammered in 40-degree heat. A bit delusional, having visited a chapel decorated with human bones and the hair of young brides, we enter the apparent calm of a home goods store. Except our day of the macabre wasn’t over. One of these items was a coat rack made of four sheep’s feet, with its still filthy varnished hooves bent at their L-shaped joints and loosely attached to a piece of molded wood.
I bought it. I kept it even after it became infested, in the style of a Dalí painting, with ants. I brought him back home to Britain. Only with great reluctance and under pressure from my family members who found this increasingly dilapidated object for some disgusting reason, did I throw it away. I’m still sorry, like I’m a missing limb. In fact, as much as a sheep whose legs had been turned into a coat rack could feel.
But it does not matter. I can comfort myself with a bowl made from pineapples from the Taygetos Mountains in Greece, a glow-in-the-dark Virgin Mary from a religious shop in London’s Brixton Market, and the Little Lovemaking Monk, a very tacky item from a shop. pranks at Paragon Arcade in Hull. Also models of food of the type that Japanese restaurants sometimes display in their windows and an ashtray and a lighter in the shape of the “Bird’s Nest” stadium built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. (Which, one would imagine, was the last time that it was considered appropriate to sell souvenirs for this sports festival that were also a requirement for smokers).
Because I write about architecture, you might think that I only surround myself with the most refined objects. “Don’t have anything in your house that you don’t know is useful,” as William Morris said, “or that you think is beautiful.” What good advice. Except I don’t follow it – some of the things I live with are definitely useless and some might be considered ugly by many. Many of them could be called kitsch, but that’s a derogatory word for artifacts that, in one way or another and with the possible exception of that monk from Hull, deserve respect. What they have in common is their freedom from hierarchies of taste, their unconcern about whether they constitute Design with a capital “D”.
The attraction is partly sentimental. These objects can recall a time and place, a vacation or a work trip, the people I was with, the heat in the air or the smell of trees, the weight of food or the haze of alcohol, so more effective than a photograph. .
They are antidotes to globalization. At a time when clusters of similar brands inhabit the main streets of cities everywhere, it is a pleasure to find an object that could only have come from one place. Some have the power to transmit vanished worlds, such as Soviet-era postcard books of mountain ranges, Baroque palaces, or Rubens paintings purchased in Tallinn, Estonia.
I am attracted to things that show a wish, a dream or a belief, where you can have a sense of connection with the creator. And with The Maker: most of the world’s religions are represented in my collection.
Many of the pieces are about death, love or hope. I have boxes of soap, made in Argentina and bought in Spain, that have colorful images that suggest that the use of the product could encourage a saint to help with school exams and resolve marital disputes.
I like the absurd, for example, a pop-up cardboard model of the colossal palace that the tyrannical President Ceaușescu built in Bucharest, an object that is more delicately made than the building itself. Also the absurd, as with a plastic ashtray that carries a reproduction of Goya La Maja naked. I admire that someone has so boldly taken the logic of tourist souvenirs (applying an iconic image to an everyday object) to its logical, albeit jarring, conclusion.
Together, these objects reveal the extent to which things are alike and different, the way a fruit made of felt may sound with a wood carving, or a metal Turkish clock with the plastic grotto that contains that luminous Virgin, to no other. which is why they are the same greenish-blue color. There are leaps of scale – a tiny castle, an oversized clock – and frustrated or faded technologies, such as lenticular postcards or clockwork or outdated car models.
There is a preponderance of skeuomorphs in my collection, that is, of things that look like something other than what they are. Not that it really should be called a collection, as that could imply more direction than is actually present. An accumulation would be a better word.
A sense of connection can come from the way something is done, as well as from whatever it is trying to represent. Small trees and kitchen furniture for architectural models, bought from the giant and phenomenal Tokyu Hands Department Store In Tokyo, they throw you down with their precision. Small enameled coffee cups, bright red from Barcelona and leaf green from Salvador, but otherwise identical, have the appeal of doing something simple well. That bowl of pineapple, bought from an old woman at a lonely stall on a mountain road, although it can’t be washed in the dishwasher, is exquisite.
My favorite objects are those in which image and doing are combined. These include the cardboard models of valuable goods that are sometimes burned at Chinese funerals so that while some of them are a bit dated, they can be enjoyed in the afterlife: Rolex, a Walkman, an SLR camera. Both the idea and the execution are beautiful. I also treasure a swan, made from a plastic milk bottle by artist Madelon Vriesendorp, who by the way is a much more accomplished hoarder than I am, that is lit from within.
All human life, in short, is there. There is thrift, invention, fantasy and extravagance, skill and error, naivety and intelligence. Objects are directions, distractions, and inspirations in my daily life. They manifest intention in the material, which is something I am always looking for, be it in a cathedral or in a cup of coffee.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism