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Home is where your warehouse is

26 of October '21

column from issue 10|A&B

"They fit beautifully on you, these ledgings!" - states in a connoisseur's tone the vivacious saleswoman. Her head is adorned with a sexy visor of orange stiff foil with the word "Ibiza" written on it. The lady, wearing beautiful polyester leggings that would make Eddie Van Halen himself proud, turns half disbelievingly, half flirtatiously in front of a vertical mirror leaning in the shadow of a "Turkish tent" against the side of a worn-out van.

Meanwhile, the husband of the lady with the visor, who introduced himself to me as Mareczek, vividly gesticulating, explains to my several-year-old sons how it is necessary to spread the goods on a blanket so that people passing through the bazaar's muddy alleyway turn from indifferent passersby into excited customers. "Klyent won't buy if you don't put the goods under his nose, do you understand, smyk?" I give an affirmative gesture and the boys eagerly move their "store" closer to the alley, moving the blanket swath away from the open trunk of our car.

How did we get here? You could say it's an educational and hygienic experiment. After several family visits to a suburban flea market, Antoś, our nine-year-old son, came up with the fiendish idea of selling unneeded junk from the attic and thus earning money for his dream army sets of plastic monsters for Role-Playing Games. Jas, his younger brother, was immediately persuaded, and we - the parents, we said - that this was a great opportunity to show them some of the rules governing our mercantile world. We gave them the green light, stipulating that it was "their business": all the money they would make would be theirs, as long as they set the prices of the various goods and enthusiastically advertised them to potential buyers. One Saturday evening we climbed the steep folding staircase to the attic, for the first time treating it not as a backyard black hole, but as a resource of pedagogical aids for future capitalists, or at least more informed consumers of what this capitalism can offer. Antos' idea had another plus in the form of finally and profitably disposing of the stock of shamefully hidden ugliness accumulated by the previous generation of users of our country house.

"How much is this painting for?" - asks an elderly gentleman with a goatee, leaning over an appalling efflorescence of talentlessness pretending to be an overblown Venetian land-scape, whose only valuable parts are a sturdy frame and a sub-image. "A hundred!" - says six-year-old Johny without stammering, and extends his hand in the gesture of a presenting perfume hostess. - "The gentleman looks: beautiful, hand-painted and how big! And that frame, how thick!". The gentleman offers five dimes, the boys look at me, which I do. I spread my hands and say, "Guys, negotiate!". Jas closes his eyes and throws: "All right, we won't give it for less than five zlotys!". Goatee parries with laughter, as do several onlookers who were attracted by the unusual scene. Antoś pulls Jas aside, reproaching him for "not understanding anything at all" and, turning to face the buyer, replies: "It was about five dimes and five zlotys!". The crowd at the edge of the blanket again erupts into snarky merriment, especially our neighbor Mareczek, looking out from between the tin bales, an obese lady with a storm of wavy teeth and a guy in a strange hat, who is hungrily staring at the still-our record of Engelbert Humperdinck's hits. Eventually the oil work is sold, and two hours later our blanket is completely empty. More lucky ones walk away with bargain-buying monstrous quasi-African giraffe lamps, the guts of an old clock, vinyl records from the Bulgarian Cultural Center, unwrapped DVDs ofpathetic fakes of Disney movies, a sexless porcelain vase, creepy still lifes made of felted wool, dorky examples of leatherwork and a broken glass vase. The boys eagerly count the money. There is success: Anoś will have the plastic Gorgoth Hammer-Handed of his dreams riding the Beast from Xanax, surrounded by sinister lizard walkers with machete-halabards. "Will we be here again next week?" - Antos asks.

Theadventure of the flea market and rummaging through the attic doesn't get me off the hook, however, especially when my mother-in-law remarks without reproach, rather reflectively, that she bought a Venetian landshaw for a whole three hundred zlotys at a real art gallery in the mall. After returning to our country house, I sit quietly with my tea on a fat leather couch in a dark corner of the living room. Leaning against a gargantuan sized Romanian-made teddy bear, the only inheritance from a long-deceased English aunt, I begin, horror of horrors, to think. The "thinking" that envelops me attracts words and images. A crowd of faces from a flea market, colored like the masks in James Ensor's painting "Carnival in Brussels." Faces focused, like those of Paleolithic gatherers, on plucking junk treasures from the trash strewn on the blankets, which they triumphantly carry back to their homes: "a real treasure and how cheap!". My own focused mouth as I scour the stalls with my eyes, looking for pressed glassware from the 1960s: "a real treasure and how cheap!". Mareczek confidentially leaning towards me with the text: "I'm the one with the rules. I don't trade in Chinese goods. No plastic, only antiques, from before the war at least. Even what was trash then today is better than all that plastic junk!". The voice of a curator acquaintance: "If this Musk is such a genius, instead of inventing satellites that display advertisements in the sky, let him shine with an idea of how to seamlessly dispose of millions of tons of garbage and in general all the damn objects we're growing into!". A conversation on the ground floor of a small house I designed for a divorced client. "This house is so small that I had to give up various objects. And you know what, I'm very happy with it!" Finally, the face of a California daddy at the edge of the pool in "The Graduate." "Son, listen to me! Plastic. Plastic is the future!"

The fatalism of humanity is the compulsion to create and consume. We must invent and create, but to the unhappiness of ourselves and the world we tread on, there is little deep meaning in it. Armies of designers, marketers, production specs, advertisers and inventors are doubling and tripling to offer humanity the next spinners or comforting plushies to collect through grocery chain purchases, but also things whose meaning is negated by their shortness of function, poor quality and inability to be completely recycled. I myself - designer, "inventor" and teacher of the next generation of designers - exemplify this on a daily basis.

The second fatalism is thousands of years of collecting and hunting, and how the entire global system of economic exchange preys on the instincts associated with them. We need to keep acquiring new things, regardless of what happens to the old things, or whether we benefit from the new things at all. I remember a radio interview with a former director of a bank and a journalist's question about how he reconciles punk youth with being at the top of the capitalist ladder of power. "The most subversive thing you can do today is to not need things," he said.

Well, what of it: even the intelligentsia's fetishes - the books that fill the shelves in our house - are a contribution to the conversation about the destruction of the world, as harvesters, greedy politicians of every stripe and crying squirrels on the cut trunk. All of this barracuda - practical, decorative, symbolic - ends up in our homes-magazines. We kill ourselves to get Provençal kitchens, frameless doors, cantilevered lamps on a leg of Carrara marble, Faberge eggs and Meissen porcelain, Kossaks and Fangors, Starck lemon squeezers, smegs and kitschens not to mention. What is the value of all this? For whom? Why? And above all: for how long and at what price?

I remember the opening of an exhibition at Storefront Gallery in New York. The company is standing on the street, because the gallery is narrow as a wedge. A photographer, a gray-haired thin old man, circulates among the people. Full of verve and at the same time some kind of calmness. He is dressed in a blue French worker's shirt, jeans and black sneakers. "That's Bill Cunningham," a friend hints. - "He's an interesting guy: he has nothing but a bag, some clothes and, of course, a camera. He lives at an angle with friends. He used to have bicycles, but they were stolen from him, so since there is a city rental system, he uses city bikes." "Why so?" - I ask intrigued. "Because in the city of money, it's the closest thing to freedom as you can get," he says. "Yes, throw it all to hell and live with a hundred objects at most!" - ran through my head at the time.

I was suddenly pulled from my countercultural musings by a flicker of light passing through a honey-colored glass plate. Flashes and shadows are arranged in fanciful patterns on the coffee table, where, by some miracle, the afternoon sun arrives. God, what beauty! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! The plate is not just any plate, as it is from the "Meteor" series designed by Jan and Eryka Drost, a pair of legendary pressed glass designers from the Ząbkowice Glassworks. A trophy from today's visit to the flea market. For a whole twenty pe-el-en, as if for free. Damn, we have to go back there next week, so that our collection grows and multiplies!

Jakub Szczęsny

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