Last night was another wonderful edition of “That Belongs in a Museum.” Like the first, it was a wondrous live literary event. Basically, people are invited to bring objects and share stories about them. The objects can be anything from a pair of shoes to a statue head. All that matters is that the objects have a story, personal or otherwise. This time, one of the organizers talked about the idea of a symposium. Apparently, it means drinking party and harkens back to Ancient Greece and Plato’s symposium, where guys got drunk, talked about sex and love, drinking on couches. That’s the life. Nowadays, the symposium tends to be an academic affair sans alcohol (Well, the drinking comes afterwards). “That Belongs in a Museum” brings back the drinking to the symposium. Cheers to that!
This time, I presented a less personal item. I brought a book called “El Atravesado” by Andres Caicedo. The book cover is made from cardboard, which is hand painted bright green with the word “CAICEDO” written on it. It’s a book from the incredible publishing house Eloísa Cartonera in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Basically, in the early 2000s, the Argentine economy tanked. If I recall correctly, the government depegged the peso to the dollar. Inflation was rife; people lost their entire life savings. There was high unemployment and barter economy started to resume. They went through five presidents in about two weeks.
As a result of the crisis, there was a group of people called cartoneros who would pick through garbage to find cardboard. The government had a sort of social security net where they would pay the cartoneros for the cardboard. The founder of Eloísa Cartonera, Javier Barilaro, Washington Cucurto, and eventually Fernanda, founded the publishing house. They bought cardboard from the cartoneros at a higher rate than the government and used it to bind their books. Either the cartoneros themselves or their kids would hand paint the covers. The books are by obscure to famous authors in Latin America. The motto is “No hay cuchillos sin rosas” or “There are no knives without roses.” In addition to providing a response to the economic conditions, it also provided an alternative to other published books. Books are expensive in Argentina. These cardboard books were very reasonable; maybe they were a few dollars. I believe that the model has spread to other countries in Latin America and even Africa. I love it. It’s like the zines here in the US but an entire publishing house. You can read more about it on their English language page here.
There were many other amazing objects. There was the name dropping matchbook, a jean jacket with a picture of Poison on the back from the 1980s (and mom jeans to boot!), a book of “Facts” from 1903, a book about insomnia used to bridge the gap between siblings, a 3D printed detail of the Chicago River, a dog’s head bookend that reminds a gentlemen of his veterinary grandfather. But if you want to see and hear these pieces, check out the website when it is up. Better yet, go to the next event in June!