This project is part of Container's Multitudes series, which invites writers and artists to transform the same object into works of visual and literary art.
In this series, MFA and MA students from University of Massachusetts Boston's Fall 2018 special topics course were invited to interpret a piggy bank. Proceeds from the sale of these items are split equally between Container and the artist.
What do we save? Money, of course. The quarter-sized slit cut into the top of this container was there to begin with, along with the copper plate on the side that reads “Coin.” This container makes no secret of its original purpose: a savings account, funded coin by coin. I started by expanding the definition of savings—asked, what do we save? Then I started to consider who, when, why, and how. The more pressure I put on the idea of saving, the more I kept coming back to a domestic space. We save so we can buy a house, fill it with furniture, have children, put them through school, retire, move to Florida. We save so we can begin to create a domestic space (a house, a marriage, a family).
Perhaps this is why, for me, the concept of ‘saving’ began to take on gender roles. More specifically, the idea brought me to my grandparents. Even more specifically, to their house. My grandfather saves by repairing, remodeling, fixing; my grandmother saves by repurposing (used to-go containers, used butter tubs), by collecting, by mending, and by remembering (names, dates, deaths, marriages, to-do lists, family lore, family history). My grandfather worked for forty years, and she balanced the books. There’s a way in which their roles epitomize two different kinds of saving: one, physical (fixing the broken gutter, depositing a check into the bank) and the other, emotional (picking up a stray button from the ground, keeping the sauce packets from a takeout order, keeping track of the money in the bank).
The outside and inside of my container are collaged with pages from a Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual from 1973. The outside deals with exterior DIY concerns (how to clean a gutter, paint wood siding, etc.), while the inside deals with interior concerns (mending broken pottery, repurposing a wine bottle into a drinking glass, etc.). The entire collage works as a kind of instruction manual, but not one that you can follow in any linear fashion. And not one that will lead you to any foreseeable final result. The important thing, in this DIY collage, is the process. It’s a broken process to encourage a closer examination of the process itself, and by extension an examination of the steps we go through to save our various things.
The container begins with the outside of a house, continues with the interior, and is continued further with two spools and pin cushion, meant to be a kind of sewing kit. For years, women have sewn in order to save. My grandmother has spent her life mending hems and sewing buttons on clothes for the rest of the family. The significance of the sewing kit, two spools unspooling unbroken text, is to position myself somewhere within a masculine and feminine savings--to push into my own understanding of domesticity and the act of saving. The text wound around spools, at the heart of the object, positions myself within and against two domestic roles, neither of which I’m ready to inhabit in full. As you unspool the text, you’re visually confronted with my process of learning a domestic task I never learned. My generation doesn’t expect a house, a retirement account, and we haven’t learned these simple domestic tasks of saving that my grandmother and grandfather grew up learning. I need a book to teach me how to install a window and a YouTube video to teach me to sew. The running stitch, as the video taught me to call it, is uneven, barely anchored at first. By the end of the second spool, my stitch is more practiced, more even, more confident.
TOOLS & MATERIALS USED
Wood, fabric, paper, glue, pins / pincushions
Brooke Schifano is a poetry MFA candidate at The University of Massachusetts, Boston. She’s been a recipient of the Anne Fields Poetry Prize and has served as a poetry editor for Breakwater Review and Fourteen Hills. Her most recent work can be found online at Mortar Magazine.