Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 5th 2020

Our text was a top-view photograph of  Placebo VIII (2018) by Polish artist Agnieszka Kurant. It is described as a “custom display cabinet with custom printed paper, metal and plastic containers,”  33 x 45.5 x 4 inch. For two minutes we gazed in silence at the art, then opened a dialogue with “What do we have here?”

We immediately went to the sly names on the containers. “Provasic,” near the center of the art, for example, is the medication at play in the 1993 film The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford. Other names, like “Tripizoid,” had us laughing, and “Hubrizine” made us think about how medicines address what we think is wrong with us. We wondered what “Slug” might be for. Understanding that the medications were not real, as referenced in the artwork’s title, we wondered about the uses of placebos, and we thought about how placebos might offer care as much as cure.

The designs seen on the various packages ranged from old-fashioned to modern, moving us through time and drawing our attention to which ones we found appealing and which we shied away from. The black spaces between the containers emphasized their tidy organization, reminding one person of a quilt.

Taken as a whole, the collection reminded one participant of the ever-growing collection in her grandmother’s drawer. One person felt seduced by the colors and composition of the presentation, while another person found herself resisting it for its consumerist flavor at a time when she was trying to shed unwanted belongings. We also noticed that the colorful packaging is customer-oriented, unlike the plain packaging dispensed from pharmacies, so the medications look like something we might want to take, when of course we don’t.

Today’s prompt was “Write about something you collected.” Five participants read their writing, each with a different take on what we choose to keep, what is given to us, and what we give away (or not) and why.

Bookending our discussion, one writer reflected on her own writing: She led with mentioning/foreshadowing boxes versus their contents (a baby bracelet, a pin from skiing), employing these descriptions of these things in contrast to a brief life.

In every single box was a treasure, understated but reflecting a connection to something worth saving versus letting go.

Thematically in concert with the first writer but using the quite different form of a list, another writer described “trinkets from another life” and explored the grammar of emotions and specters of relationships that are formed by metaphorical locks and keys while revealing a physical body/mind connection.

A collection of details emerged as writers explored the quantitative nature of collecting – when it comes to art, books, photos, magazines, toys and souvenirs, how many is enough? –  as well as the intentionality of collecting and purging: “I’m trying to eliminate. I have enough.” A participant wrote about not being able to imagine her collection of stuffed animals stuffed in a landfill. Another wrote about a collection including Beanie Babies, slights and insults, genetic syndromes, ancestors, thank-you cards from patients, friends, and (unsuccessfully) fridge magnets.

Each piece of writing revealed bits of detail about its narrator: one participant described her collection of friends and relationships – like birds that may head south, yet leaving us with something behind. Some of these relationships end because of time and others because of death, and either way, we must grapple with the losses.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday, August 10th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

Placebo VIII
Agnieszka Kurant

(33 x 45.5 x 4 inch)

Custom display cabinet with custom printed paper, metal and plastic containers

15 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 5th 2020

  1. Patricia D

    Boxes! from everywhere, in all sorts of sizes, shapes and colours. Trip souvenirs, gifts from people who know of my box obsession. Each one holds a little something, a surprise under the lid: my birth baby bracelet, a ring from a lost lover, funny parrot earings from a Carbibean island, pins from ski hills, and so on. Just seeing them makes me happy, although dusting them does not.
    And then my closet harbors the saddest box of all as it contains my firstborn’s tiny belongings that remind me of his brief lie.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Never…never save old cans partially emptied of their paint.
    You will never use that paint.
    You think you will.
    You think they are good to have around so
    You can slap a white coat on an old wall in the basement
    Or on the retaining wall along the drive,
    But there are so many white colors
    That you can’t get one to match and,
    That’s ok with you, but not the other residents of the house.

    So you never use them and
    They have a way of accumulating.
    Yes, I accumulated them over twenty years even though
    I lived here only seventeen.
    Yes, I saved some the previous owner had left behind!

    And what happens is that the oil and water separate from the paint
    And you can never quite get them to mix back together quite right
    And the azures, burgundies, and green-golds lose their luster
    Especially when you spend an afternoon stirring in cat litter (all colors turn some shade of gray)
    So you can legally and with a conservationist’s conscience
    leave them for the trashman to collect.


    Liked by 2 people

  3. “On her deathbed, Granny distributed her jewelry,
    all of them, to her kids, their kids and their future spouses,
    everyone got some.
    Her huge diaper packs were left unopened after her death,
    we didn’t know what to do with them.
    Her medicines, some used, most untouched, were disposed,
    in the way children leave their toys behind,
    once they discover puberty-
    kept, unkept, together.
    I never liked her jewelry, it looked best on her.
    Ideally, once gone. the box full of her clothes
    was to be discarded too,
    too much of the dead person on them.
    As no body wanted them,
    So I took her ancient, memorialized sarees.”

    Thank you for another great session.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janine M Mariscotti

      Innumerable greeting cards for every occasion and no occasion
      Tumbling out of decorated hat boxes
      stacked one on another
      Marking birthdays and
      love lost
      love found
      At once ephemeral and everlasting

      Liked by 1 person

      • al3793

        Janine, you can make quite a story board from those cards and I bet they’d look nice laid on on a black background. I like the image of them tumbling out of hat boxes and the idea of the ephemeral and everlasting both at once. Sometimes there are two different truths at the same time. Thank you. Andre


    • al3793

      Sakshi, re: her clothes, “too much of the dead person on them, as no body wanted them. Body has a dual meaning – no one wanted them and no- body- wanted them placed on them – the body. Were the untouched medicine a placebo for the one who prescribed them, giving a sense that they had done something for Granny, when she wanted something other than a medicine, something much more and much simpler than that? Thank you. Andre


  4. Something I collected~~~

    Years pass by all too swiftly.
    Milestones soon become pebbles
    strewn on the pathway of life.

    Locks of blond hair snipped from my babies’ heads,
    tucked away so carefully
    in this treasure box of memories.
    First pairs of leather shoes to take those first steps,
    nestled in a corner.
    Creases in the shoes’ tops;
    I can see those little feet moving, oh, so carefully.

    A mother’s ring worn on my Mom’s finger,
    a gift from her children.
    How I miss her still.
    Yellowed and wrinkled grade sheets from years long ago.
    Was I ever that young?
    I recall a scared little girl entering kindergarten,
    entering the big outside world,
    holding tightly onto my mom’s hand.

    Oh, so many memories in this worn box.
    I hold it close and touch its contents from time to time.
    Tears well up,
    as my mind recalls back in time.
    So many blessings have been bestowed upon me.

    And so I protect this little box,
    with its bent corners and non-descript lid.
    It is a part of me,
    it is a part of my heart.


    • al3793

      Both you and Patricia picked up on the collection of heart felt memories gathered over the years. Anything but placebo effect is the heart signing with love. Your varied collection of “things” that linked to your memories reminded me of the plethora of placebos in the photo. Thanks, Michele.


  5. She gathered herself for the day and moved through her paces slowly, deliberately, with purpose.
    That purpose belied the weight of others she gathered on her path; the dust, the light, the pain and the opinions (invited or otherwise) that she had to shed at the day’s end like a jacket, heavy, but yielding, to allow her back to herself.

    Liked by 1 person

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