This is a collage I made some years ago. It’s called 17 years in 98 pieces.
From childhood until my early 20s, I collected mementos that I found meaningful and beautiful. Cards from my mum, sisters and friends; tickets to Japanese castles and temples; a postcard from a German boy I met at a party; a map; a red packet from my grandfather in Hong Kong. I carted them around in a box as I moved from Darwin to Melbourne, Japan, Singapore and back to Melbourne. They sat, precious objects in a cardboard box in a dark cupboard, while I settled into my first house with my husband and raised our babies.
One day I realised that the idea of this collection had more meaning than the objects themselves. I cut them up, arranged my favourite pieces into a collage, and threw away the box and scraps. Framed on the wall, it greets me every day as I walk through my front door. A sliver of Astroboy is enough to remind me of my visit to Harajuku with a travelling stiltwalker troupe. A scrap of a signature reminds me of beer on the beach with a long-lost teenage friend.
I thought about this collage yesterday when I visited the Museum of Broken Relationships, part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. The exhibition is full of poignant, funny, angry and heartbreaking stories of the extraordinary meaning attached to objects, how they become signifiers that cannot be casually discarded. For the participants who donated objects, handing them over and telling their story is a ritual of release.