Essay by Dr. Marie-Louise Anderson

Antonietta Covino-Beehre loves the silky voice and soulful songs of Edith Piaf, in particular
Je ne regrette rien - I have no regrets. Piaf sings about the problems in life plus the precious things surrounding her. It was Piaf that first stimulated the artist to explore the meaning behind collecting souvenirs.

Usually when we think of souvenirs we imagine mass produced objects to support the tourist industry, for example, postcards, hats, mugs, badges, buttons, soft toys etc. They are marketed as mementos and associated with a specific location. In other words souvenirs have a nostalgic value.

At home too, without the need to travel, we are drawn to objects that relate to memories. The store at the end of blockbuster exhibitions, for example, can lure us to purchase merchandise associated with what we have just seen. Collectively we share the experience of seeing exotic objects and works of art from other places and timeframes. Souvenirs help us to re-visit and enjoy all over again the visual and tactile wisdom inherent in these events.

A souvenir serves as a reminder of where we have been and proves to others the places we have visited. They assist in the sharing of experiences and expose our particular preferences. These objects can encourage us to make a return visit and their extent results in collections that proudly adorn our homes, often housed on shelves, mantle pieces and in glass cabinets. But souvenirs can also include the collection of family items or memorabilia associated with historical events, for example the visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II or the Eureka Stockade. Many scour opportunity shops for items of interest.

Some artists delve into the psychology of collecting souvenirs and exploit the visual possibilities. Lucie Fontaine produced a work from a series titled ‘Souvenir’, where text covers an arrangement of old photographs - ‘ART IS DEFINED ONLY WITHIN THE STORY CALLED ART HISTORY ARTIFACTS SHOWN AT THIS EXHIBITION ARE NOT WORKS OF ART. THEY ARE RATHER SOUVENIRS, SELECTED SPECIMENS OF OUR COLLECTIVE MEMORY.”

One of Antonietta Covino-Beehre’s favourite artists, the German artist Dieter Roth, who was born in 1930 and died in 1998, scrutinized and appropriated from the world around him playing with visual poetry as a way of understanding how he could make sense of the world and his own place in it. Roth experimented with materials and their inherent meaning. For example he sculpted 250 generic rabbits out of rabbit dung, titled
Rabbit-shit-rabbit, referring to the rabbit’s numbers through bodily workings.

Roth’s friends and colleagues became part of the artist’s creative process by cooperating with him on certain projects. For example he presented them with gifts calling them souvenirs. The objects were then presented back to the artist for inclusion in an exhibition.

In 2002 Covino-Beehre produced postcards from images taken from her own contact sheets. She sent them to friends who subsequently sent them back postmarked. The postcards were then collated in a book that became part of an installation.

Souvenirs, for Covino-Beehre, mean more than tourist kitsch. For her project,
Ricordi – Souvenirs, the artist delves into history, culture and identity. She tests her ideas by inviting friends and fellow artists to share their own ‘souvenirs’ for scrutiny. The artist filmed and interviewed each participant enquiring as to the meaning and context of their precious objects, their memories of the past. Interviewees trusted the artist with their stories after which she re-configured their anecdotes using the mediums of print and sculpture. Her investigation begins with the question, ‘do souvenirs tell us something about the purchaser, mark a particular time and place and/or refer to popular culture?’

Ultimately Covino-Beehre facilitates all participants, including herself, to connect to each other through common experience and the need to belong.

Dr. Marie-Louise Anderson

Marie-Louise’s research interests have covered areas of migration, and particularly how different locations mold the individual and conversely how societies impact on place/landscape. Oral history has informed much of her artwork. As well as having several papers and articles published in magazines and conference journals, she has exhibited widely and her art practice covers a variety of media such as ceramics, photography, printmaking and installation.