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.
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