Many of our contributors share stories about making things from trash. For example, Piter from Togliatti, Russia, remembers spending hours crafting presents as a child: “I loved to make holiday cards from whatever materials I happened to have: sticks from ice-cream, melted aluminum, bits and pieces from ribbons, old beads, glue and paint, feathers, grains, plastic straps from some old boxes. I could spend days creating just one card. I must have had a great attention span back then, sitting over my handiwork for days on end.” For many, a favorite childhood pastime became a welcome hobby as an adult, allowing for a creative outlet and a way of self-expression. Omnidoll from Garden Grove, California says, “The skills and eye for small things I gained then assist me now in repairing old dolls and making dolls for my renewed pleasure as a grown up and to give pleasure to children and adults whose dolls I fix. I am grateful that I did not lose my ability to appreciate overlooked objects.”
My friend who lives in Yekateringburg, Russia, has similarly carried over an ability to create worlds from simple things to her adult life. She makes hand-made teddy bears that look vintage, using pieces of old cloth, “real” antique details and accessories, such as buttons, and following old-style blueprints. Her teddy bears are aged on purpose: stitches are made to look worn out, there is some patching and special treatment to elements such as brooches to make them look older. Essentially, artificially aged things are “fake authentic,” appealing to the allure of mystery that surrounds old things. However paradoxical, they are aesthetically pleasing, creating a welcoming enchantment.
This aesthetics has become popular only recently in Russia, as fashion and public taste gradually turned away from the glamour of the new and towards appreciation of antique, weather-beaten things. In the early 2000s in Russia, resentment against the hardships and poverty of the post-communist years took an extreme turn: those were the years of the so-called Putin glamour, which glorified an expensive, swaggering lifestyle. Everything had to be new: clothes, furniture, accessories, which meant that everything old was ruthlessly discarded if the owner had a slightest opportunity to replace the old thing with something new, even if it was cheaply made (not unlike the transition from the 80s into the early 90s in the former GDR, as depicted in Goodbye, Lenin!). People were in a hurry to discard the past, hastily replacing the old self associated with poverty and stagnation with a new, shiny façade.
This was, of course, one of paradoxes of the ways in which societies assign value: now, only a decade later, Russian culture caught up with the West and its much more nuanced understanding of the value of old things. “Vintage” and “antique” things are now in fashion.
Here we highlight featured stories from the archive, contributions by fellow writers and artists, as well as reflections and comments on the value and impact of discarded objects in our world.