‘Der Lumpensammler & the poet: both are concerned’ I, 2020.
Part of a deconstructed and bound chair, 39.3 x 56 x 96.3 cm
‘Der Lumpensammler’, or ‘ragpicker’, refers to an individual who collects discarded material for salvage. Eugène Atget’s 1899 photo, ‘Untitled [ragpicker]’, famously depicts a man carting large fabric bundles through the streets. The title of my piece is taken from Walter Benjamin’s discussion of Charles Baudelaire’s use of the ragpicker figure within his work; Benjamin notes, ‘Ragpicker and poet: both are concerned with refuge’. While an apt metaphor, and reflective of my own interest in ‘waste’ materials, the issue of privilege and power cannot be ignored. The ragpicker within mid-nineteenth century Paris was the agent of a capitalist society, digging through the consumerist waste to retrieve items which could be reintroduced into distribution. It would be irresponsible to ignore the dire socio-economic position of such individuals, and anachronistic to view this line of work as a thing of the past. Ragpicking is not a poetic, self-indulgent pastime but a hazardous livelihood many are still subjected to in an attempt to meet basic needs. In recent years attention has been given to the child labour and human rights violations associated with ragpicking today. I cannot overlook this reality, and must acknowledge my own privilege in choosing to pick things from the streets to simply fuel an artistic practice.
Walter Benjamin, Edmund Jephcott, Howard Eiland, and Michael W Jennings, Walter Benjamin 1938-1940, Volume 4: Selected Writings (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 48.
Emma M. Bielecki, ‘“Un Artiste en matière de chiffons": The Rag-Picker as a Figure for the Artist in Champfleury's "La Mascarade de la vie parisienne”’, Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 37.3/4 (2009), pp. 262-275.