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Claudia Terstappen CV (PDF)

As a European living in Australia I recently became fascinated by the depictions of the country that occur on souvenirs that are sold at tourist destinations and often end up in junk shops. I started to buy souvenirs, mainly choosing small household objects from the 1930’s and 40’s that showed landscapes and animals. A condition of purchase was that they would exclude photographic media as a method of depiction. I looked for an interpretation of Australia ‘by hand’, such as painting, drawing and modelling, perhaps as a clear alternative to my own ‘recordings’ that are photographic, or maybe out of a sense of nostalgia.

The souvenirs I collected aim to represent the most important landscapes, buildings or animals of an area. They reflect the qualities and characteristics of a region as much as the country as a whole. Surely the making of a souvenir was once the result of an experience that people wanted to express and share with others, perhaps in order to promote the place and initiate tourism and business. Flora, fauna and landscapes got frozen in small sized objects so that people could take them home like a pebble from the beach. There they would sit as a witness, a fake trophy and reminder to their journey. The souvenir (French : to come into the mind, to remember) acts as an external hard drive for our memory. It always contains an ambivalent taste, but no matter how well or badly a place is reproduced, it is still ‘honoured’ by the object, as the place has been chosen, modelled and reproduced, then marketed, promoted and brought into shops.

Outside the world of mass produced souvenirs we also take photographs with everything from mobile phones to professional cameras in order to record and share our experiences. Perhaps the image reassures us about what we saw and stabilizes our memory. However, we often choose not merely to depict the same places as we find on souvenirs but rather something that might capture the place as we experience it on a more personal level.
Are there then two modes of memories – a collective memory and a personal one? Are souvenirs produced for people who don’t know how to picture a place themselves? What about the shape, size and ornament of souvenirs? There are vases, plates, handkerchiefs, towels, coasters, ashtrays etc. Why do these objects have to have another function? What gesture is represented by putting out a cigarette in a waterfall or on a koala? These objects are strange hybrids, with images that ‘piggyback’ into our lives on ornamental and practical objects, always aimed at allowing memories of place and time into our daily routines and practical actions.

I asked myself: how do we capture an experience of a country? How do we portray a place? What exactly is it that interests us? How do we judge a place and by what criteria? What is the attraction of a place made of? If one could create Australia’s identity through a collection of souvenirs, what kind of Australia would we see?

In this exhibition I juxtapose photographs of souvenirs that depict Australia’s landscapes and animals with photographs that I took in Australia. I was curious to see what my most important places (‘my Australia’) would look like in comparison to those on the souvenirs and if the objects and images could be re-evaluated through their translation into a different media.

Claudia Terstappen
July 2008

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