The phenomena of patina on surfaces is intimately seductive – layers of flacking colour on facades, walls and doors of old houses – thresholds dented and polished by feet treading on them for decades and centuries, tools honed by use, lichen-coated wood and stone, the fading or darkening of materials affected by exposure to light, air, water, wind, heat, humidity, wear and touch – and – poignantly – human skin inscribed by living.
The irreverence of organic processes brings endless revelations, a subtle kind of charm, a triumph of endurance, a fleeting glimpse of time in motion, a mystical hue of imperfection, evidence of existence that display glorious or sad narratives of beauty, relationships, melancholy, comedy, tragedy, remembrance and transformation.
Children naturally form emotional attachments to objects that then become love-worn. The remarkable psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott (whose ideas are worth exploring) specialised in early emotional relationship bonds and the importance of a holding environment for children. He coined the term transitional objects for the blankets, stuffed toys, dolls, or anything a child may choose to have an intimate relationship with, for comfort, often substituting the closeness to mother.
And don’t we know … people are complex and unpredictable when it comes to holding our projections, quite unlike objects, be they associated with visual attractiveness, taste, smell and sound, or with tactile sensations. Objects can retain comforting feelings for us throughout our adult life. Anything from pets, trees, trinkets, letters, pens, photographs, books, significant presents, clothes, furniture, tools, cars, houses, places , feathers, sticks and stones can become treasures that give us pleasure.
Often a search for something lost is at work. My mother, in her later years, became passionately obsessed with replacing the Biedermeier furniture her family had lost in the Blitz on Berlin.
Then there is shabby chic, distressing and antiquing of furniture, which seem to gratify a need for aesthetics and comfort that some people enjoy but could not otherwise afford. To that end various sophisticated techniques are used on wood, glass, metal, stone, plaster and even plastic to replicate the vintage look.
But the love-worn feel of an object stressed and polished by personal use over many years, additionally endows it with a kind of cellular memory and connection, which adds a more enduring and special significance of a personal kind for which words are inadequate. The value a child or adult attaches to such an object is often poorly understood and not respected by others, be they parents, friends or strangers.
In my case, apart from certain books I loved to bits, photographs of dear ones, stones picked in memorable spots, and so on. I grew fond of a purse made for me by my ex-husband. I repaired its stitching many times. The purse is not only useful, with a special compartment for payment cards, and encrypted markings I added inside its flap, it hoards contradictory symbolic connotations worth remembering, though I won’t divulge those. Sales-people in shops tend to look at this purse far longer than necessary. Its leather shines – you see.
My purse is not full enough and my house not big enough to indulge in the hunt and collection of rare objects to which the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi would apply. Then again, I chose my priority to be writing, and am content with the few minor wabi-sabi objects I cultivated over time.
In a way we all express wabi-sabi qualities in our personalities.
… Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect …
What are the transitional objects in your life that bridge one love to the next?
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