Kate VanVliet

When I was six years old my parents moved me, my brother, our dog, and all of our things across the country in a big yellow school bus. We lived in a haunted family farmhouse for a year. I still have nightmares about that place, even though it's now in the center of a sea of McMansions. My grandmother built dollhouses out of eggshells and broken bits, and filled her swimming pool with dirt to grow a garden. My grandfather, who was very quiet, spent most of his time buying and selling stocks when I knew him. I found out after he died that he was an American spy in East Berlin after WWII because his name was Van Vliet and he spoke decent German. My father used to take me on motorcycle rides to secret beaches and rolling hills and tell me stories about living on Venice Beach when he was a teen. He built sculptures from old farm parts, and rebuilt motorcycles from scratch. I remember, on a camping trip in California before my family left, soaking in a hot springs in-ground tub that was lined in soft, green moss.

We all have one-line stories like these, anecdotal and part of our personal history. Some of them may not even be accurate. Memory is an evolving thing; it changes over time and our new experiences affect how we remember the old ones. Conversation has always been important. I've been curious about mundane ritual too, and how routines shapes the narrative we tell. Part of this is nostalgia - it is a word I find incredibly interesting. "Nostalgia" isn't the same as it used to be. Recently discussed in 19th century medical books, it was a category of disease, describing a ‘vehement desire’ to get home. Symptoms included loss of appetite, restlessness, and feelings of gloom. Today we toss the term around haphazardly, attaching it to cartoons we watched as kids and out-of-date trends. I want to find that sweet spot between the classic and contemporary perception of nostalgia. Objects can be powerful. They tell their own stories, and inspire people to tell theirs.

Tools, Talismans, and Totems is a new body of work about old stories. I am using tools, objects, and raw materials picked from the workshops of my father, my paternal grandmother and grandfather, who all passed away over the course of 13 months in 2012-2013. After they died, I had to sort through their creative spaces. They had vast collections of tools, parts, and curious bits and bops; I had to decide what to keep, what to donate, and what to sell. Everyone will have to do this at some point for someone. When I did, I learned that all of the creative spaces were like my own. The shops were filled with custom tools, meticulously organized collections, ancient supplies that we would probably never use but had to keep. I picked from each space tools that I could use, materials that called to me, random objects that I maybe could repair. Now, I am exploring my relationship with each family member as I combine their collected things with my own to make new tools, totems, or talismans.