When I first moved to Sicily in 2005, I spent a lot of time in the local markets and thrift stores as a way of familiarizing myself with my new location and of furnishing my home. A society says a lot about itself in what it chooses to trash at a certain time. Fashions that might be novel and trendy in one place might be has-beens in another place, only to be rediscovered as remnants of a nostalgic past in yet another place and then made valuable again.
Being a foreigner who already lived through several cultures, I had an outsider perspective that allowed me to revel in yet another layer of the meaning and to discover new values in artefacts that previously had never crossed my mind. In one thriftstore, I picked up a lot of discarded sports trophies for a laugh since I have never been into sports. In school, I was always the pathetic kid who was afraid of the ball and picked last for every team. But here I had the opportunity to reinvent my identity in a place where nobody knew me, and this also meant to freely reinvent my past. I took the trophies home and proudly displayed them on a shelf as 'mine'. Never mind that they ranged from kickboxing to golf.Friends who came to visit got the joke; others admired my 'accomplished career in sports'.
Then one day, I was visiting a friend of a friend who used to be a very prominent athlete in his not too far distant youth. Although he was visibly ageing, and maybe because of it, he maintained a room in his house as shrine to his former glory. It was full of diplomas, plaques, photographs, magazine covers - and trophies that he had rightfully earned with blood, sweat and tears. Passing through this room, I was arrested and struck by the beauty the trophies recalled - all the facets of it: the vigorous energy of a young body in motion, the echo of hands clapping, the sweetness of nostalgia, the pathos of his need to hold on, the inevitability of being replaced by younger talent and, ultimately, the death that would leave only this archive behind. I wanted to capture all these emotions and generalize them as common features in society.
I placed an advertisement in a newspaper, asking people to donate their trophies to my art project for a small symbolic fee. In a relatively short time, I had collected over two thousand. I was equally pleased and shocked about how people were ready to part with these tokens of their past accomplishments. The reasons varied, but, ultimately, the trophies in my collection were all donated because of an urge to 'let go' of an attachment to the past: to clean out cluttered spaces; to shed old, stagnant relations; to free oneself from the material burden or the symbolic power of the trophy itself. This psychological state of 'letting go' interests me the most in the project, next to, perhaps, the seemingly unlimited variety of the designs.
The project ended when I left Sicily last year. By then, I had
2529 pieces and knew that number could endlessly expand. My
collection now exists as the work of art Triumph
(2009) and has been exhibited at various art institutions and
museums. In the meantime, my main concern is storing and caring for
this massive volume of art objects, a burden so great that I
sometimes toy with the idea of trashing them all. Eventually,
everything will return to dust.
Excerpt from 'Readymade' by Jennifer Allen