Paranoia as a System: Scraps Shrine

When my grandfather first immigrated to America, not knowing any English, what he learned quickly was being Jewish in America meant having pennies thrown at his feet when he walked. I don’t like to call myself a penny collector, but this piece puts my penny-counting habits on display, and sacrifices those same pennies to the piece.  

My first memories are of money anxiety. This led to an early instinct to make myself small and hidden: the less space I occupied, the less time, energy, and money would need to be spent on me. At the same time I started learning to worry about money, I also started crawling into cupboards. Small, dark spaces invited me in.

This is what led to the unfolding/obscuring part of this project. I wanted something that would invite you to unfold, open up, dig around to find what was inside. I painted one side of a box which I then collaged on, and the other three sides I set up in a trifold, so that one would get to open up the box and look inside. The box is also reference to the way my money anxiety makes me hoard: for example, at times I’ve been brought to tears over throwing away boxes, because I was overwhelmed knowing that I would inevitably have to spend more money on more boxes for more inevitable moves. This was a box I used in my most recent move which, calling back to anxiety, was a very anxiety-inducing experience for me; in this way, I’ve charged or imbued the object with the emotional resonance of my ‘never letting go’ mindset, which I think all of the objects in the piece are equally imbued with. Inside the box are globs of paint leftover from some paintings I made earlier in the week, when I was using the box as a palette: this is something I’ve done multiple times, save the cardboard or paper I use as a palette, because, like everything else, I’m convinced it could be reused and reappropriated for another purpose or form.

This is the core of the project: all of these objects are things (paper, prints, garbage, pieces from previous art projects) that I’ve hoarded in an attempt to give myself as many materials as I can to make art from. This comes from that same deep seated desire to make myself smaller: as a child, I dreaded asking for a trip to Michael’s, because I knew that the trip would always be more expensive than my mother was anticipating. But I wanted art supplies. So most of my paints, charcoals and pens have come from years of collecting, finding, hoarding, a good bit stolen by a friend who worked at an art supply store many years ago. This goes for my collection of papers, too: the print in the back of the main piece was something I found in the darkroom here about 2 years ago, as well as the leftover test print on the right hand side. The cut out text and images are from books I found on the street or in the garbage. The flowers came from the side of the road, and the tealights from my roommate’s garbage.

I wanted to focus in particular on the parts of my collection that are most literally trash. The headphones that are falling apart are certainly something I found in the garbage. The chains were destroyed and rusted by a flood that happened in my room earlier in the summer, which was one of the most triggering moments for my money anxiety in recent memory, since I was forced to throw away my things that had been damaged. The pieces of plastic at the center are from the lining of an old lampshade that I accidentally melted, but kept the pieces of. The penny wrappers I got from the bank, when I was particularly broke and went in to count my coins. And the AmEx card I got from a job years ago now, when someone left his card and asked me to “cut it” since he’d already cancelled it — something I didn’t know how to do since I’d never seen cards made out of metal instead of plastic, so I kept the card instead. I placed the sealed air bags from packages ordered online in front of the main collage to create an element that would obscure it, but not completely, forcing someone to look behind the curtain. The last piece, and certainly the oldest, is the principal offering: a bottle from one of my earliest hoards, my bottle collection, or what remains of this collection, since my mother threw most of it out years ago, thinking they were garbage. It’s filled with water and coins as another symbolic offering, more in the manner of family shrines.

All of these objects, which I’ve delicately and maybe over-intentionally brought with me through the years, are placed in the piece as ritual offerings. I often don’t want to use the materials I hoard out of the anxiety that I’ll need or want them later. I chose these objects because it forces me to use them, forces me to sacrifice them to the art-making process. These objects function then as libations for whatever god would be in control of my art. 

The coins strewn across the bottom act as an offering of accumulation (or perhaps a bribe). It is the most emotionally charged object for me in this piece, because it is literally money, they’re coins I’ve been holding on to for months. I’m acting directly in defiance of my hoarding instincts by doing this. It is also a direct reproach to my mother who once told me my efforts were pointless, since “counting pennies couldn’t make a difference.” These pennies, whether I like it or not, mark the difference between anxiety and calm, stress and peace. Maybe this collection of hoarded objects and pennies is less so a spell or talisman, and more a way of learning how to let them go.

Author: Adi Sragovich