MAMO — collecting stories and the social life of things
MAMO — Collecting stories and the social life of things
Ebba Wester INTERVIEWS
Back when I was a kid I took great pleasure in finding and collecting stray objects. Shiny buttons, smooth shells, colourful ribbons, run-away beads or empty perfume bottles – anything abandoned on the sidewalk or buried in the beach small enough to smuggle into my pockets was a euphoric encounter, an archaeological discovery that rivalled the treasures of Indiana Jones. The trinkets were usually lost things, that I deemed, had been forgotten by their owners; impossible to return but now safe in my care and, somehow – perhaps through the extra-ordinary impression of coincidence – imbued with an aura of powerful magic.
This penchant for treasure-hunting other people’s miscellaneous “trash” is the reason my eyes lit up with such childish delight when I heard about “MAMO”, Museet for Andre Menneskers Overskud - the Museum of Other People’s Surplus, in English. As suggested by its name - and the playful reversal of the famous acronym MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) - this museum is by no means a conventional exhibition space. A lived-in collection of furniture, plants, pictures, upcycled art and decorative trinkets, MAMO is also the home of its founder, Nina Poulsen, and her three children. After a life-altering event left her bereaved of both her possessions and financial stability, Nina set out to rebuild her home by collecting instead of buying; a task proved possible with help from the internet and the kindness of strangers. Over time, however, what started as a creative strategy born of necessity would slowly evolve into something more: a series of unexpected encounters, a growing collection of stories, a creative exploration of space and language and an anthropological investigation of the life of things.
In occasion of the upcoming house-concert with Laura Reznek and Ursidae at MAMO this Sunday, Low-Fi paid Nina a visit to have a chat about her fascinating project, and the beautiful stories behind it. We sit down in the sun-soaked apartment over two glasses of sparkling water, nestled amidst yoga-practicing plants, dangling sculptures and rows of painted watercolour pictures drying atop of the radiator.
Thank you so much for having us today, Nina! Do you want to start by talking a bit about how MAMO started?
Nina: Well, I had a moment in my life a couple years ago when I was forced to start over. Anybody else would normally go to IKEA, but I didn’t have the money to buy everything so I couldn’t. Instead I started looking in different Facebook groups where people were giving things away, and I started getting things from people I knew, and especially things from people I didn’t know. Everything you see here, almost without exception, is things that I got for free. I didn’t buy anything. No furniture, nothing.
In the process I met so many nice and friendly people. Often they had little stories to tell about the things they were giving me.
"I had some many nice encounters with people who were glad to pass their things onto someone that could use them."
Then I thought that I should tell people about this. I started taking pictures of all these things that I got and posted them on Facebook, writing a small story, if there was something to tell. I’m an anthropologist and I’ve been studying museums, so I began to think that actually: what I’m doing is making a collection; disseminating the collection; and then doing research, and - this is what museums do. I always wanted to become a museum director and so suddenly I thought, now I have one!
I made a Facebook page and called it - similar to a famous museum of modern art (MOMA) - MAMO (The Museum of Other People’s Surplus). I started putting all the pictures and stories there too, and then I started thinking, if I have a museum, I should also do museum things, like events and so on.
I think it’s funny what happens when you start calling things something else, and people suddenly have different expectations. People started asking, for example, I’m going to have this book release - can I have it at your museum? Yeah okay, you’re welcome! And then suddenly a lot of strangers come here for a book reception because it’s a museum.
"The space took on a meaning of its own, or life of its own - me calling it a museum somehow made it one."
I’m also very interested in this play with public and private – this is a private place, it’s my apartment, but then it was filled with these things that, at first, I didn’t care about. They weren’t mine they were just things from random people. So, I was thinking about, when is something public or private, a home or not a home, and it was through this investigation and playing with these things that also created this museum.
"And these (to the right) are from an old piano. It wasn't that nice in the first place so after not being able to get the whole thing up the stairs, we took it apart and used some pieces for recycling or upcycling" — Nina.
It’s interesting this idea, that the naming of things changes the meaning of them – like the way an art gallery changes the objects inside of it.
N: Yeah, when you name things you create certain expectations - of a museum, or an exhibition. People ask me if what I’m doing is an art project but, I wouldn’t say that because I’m not an artist, it’s… I don’t know what it is!
So, you mentioned what events you’ve done with MAMO already - you’ve had a book launch…
N: I’ve had the book release, and there will be another one soon. Both authors had published independently, so these were people who would prefer to have their book release not in a commercial bookstore. The same goes for other independent artists and writers, who would rather use a a non commercial place such as a private home, because it's more fitting. People are more and more doing things that are between the commercial and the private, so MAMO really fits into that concept.
That’s really fun for me, and it’s also a kind of investigation of doing, but also observing. Seeing what happens now that I introduce this idea in this space which is more or less open, and seeing what other people get inspired to do with it.
"I'm living in this space, and then I’m also opening it up to other people to get inspired by it. It becomes it becomes a form of anthropological research."
I’ve also invited people for a kind of “conversation salon” about sharing economy or alternative currencies. And then on Kulturnatten (Culture Night) I had kids coming over to make things… I have a lot more ideas, only I’m so busy! And then of course I saw Low-Fi and I thought, that’s just perfect! It fits with MAMO because it’s also playing with these notions of what is home and what is public or private, so it perfectly matches my concept
There are so many interesting aspects to your idea, also the statement against consumerism, or commercial and mindless consumption.
N: I mean, it was out of need that I first started collecting these things. But then I felt that it was something I could also take pride in, and eventually encourage people to do the same. To not just go to IKEA or buy unethically sourced, mass-produced things… it’s just not even necessary. Then it grew into a project in its own right because, instead of just thinking “oh poor us we don’t have anything”, we could instead just think, this is how it is, this is what we do.
People have definitely become inspired! When I first heard about your museum and we talked about it at Low-Fi, people got very excited… it’s this instinctual thing that you do as a child, collecting things, and I usually find that it’s more special when it’s things you’ve found rather than bought. There’s some kind of magical aspect to it. And I really like this idea that when you open those things up and share them they become something else again, when other people bring something new to them. It’s a kind of strange exchange between things.
N: Yeah, the social life of things, as people say. And with this stuff it’s different from just buying second hand things because, if you go and buy second hand things they are somehow anonymized by the fact that people just sort of give them in to the store and then you go buy them there. It’s about the encounter. For example, couples moving in together who don’t have enough space for something, but they’re still sort of attached to it - it’s nice for them to see the person who will have it. In this sense, I feel like people gave me something of theirs, but I could also sort of give something back.
"Now there are so many people I meet in the streets and I know where they live! [laughs] Because I've been to their home to pick up plates or plants… it creates these personal relations."
And the processes of getting the things too – most of the time we’d borrow one of those big bikes, or take things apart so that you could just carry them. That’s also how we’d meet people in the street because they would notice and say, “isn’t that heavy?” and “can I help you?” and, “yes, you’re very welcome to help me!” I think people often appreciate the chance to be helpful. It has restored some of my faith in humanity. It makes everyone involved really happy.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.