One man’s garbage, another man’s treasure

This letter was found by Vincent Perez on the streets of Victoria, written on the back of a prison inventory slip. Highlights: “My world is enveloped with you (it’s you)/Then all we become is a puddle of goo.”
This letter was found by Vincent Perez on the streets of Victoria, written on the back of a prison inventory slip. Highlights: “My world is enveloped with you (it’s you)/Then all we become is a puddle of goo.”
Photo courtesy of Vincent Perez

Next time you decide to clean your drawers of forgotten love letters, mix tapes, or old birthday cards, be aware that your scraps may find their way into the hands of a found art enthusiast.

The found art subculture is frequented by people who view seemingly worthless personal items—old notes, letters, and photographs—as mysterious treasures infused with new meaning.

There’s no set criteria for what makes an item “found art.” The leading publication on the genre, Found Magazine, describes found art as “Anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life.” The most seemingly benign family cottage snapshot can become an object of fascination—whether it be genuinely aesthetic, or purely ironic and kitschy.

Queen’s graduate Vincent Perez is a self described “found art enthusiast.”

Perez’s greatest find was discovered on the streets of

Victoria, BC.

The wind blew a crumpled piece of paper across his feet. Lines of poetry were scribbled across it in a childish hand with smudged blue ink.

The poem itself is filled with spelling mistakes and endearingly amateurish lines like “you are my air.” Most intriguingly, when Perez turned over the piece of paper upon which the ode was written, he saw that it was a prisoner’s inventory slip from a Vancouver jail, with a list of their personal property—shoes, socks and a belt—listed upon it.

The contrast between the institutional character of the prison slip and the awkward, scrawled love poem on the back is striking and made Perez keep the slip close to his heart.

In Perez’s small collection of treasured found items, the letter is definitely his best.

Editors of Found Magazine—the internationally recognized publication which showcases and publishes found notes, photos and letters—came to the Sleepless Goat this past Friday.

After a showcase which included creator Davy Rothbart reading his favorite found letters and the playing of a found tape with 12 home-made rap songs on it, Perez went up and read his prison love letter, to what was no doubt an enthusiastic response.

Like green Formica refrigerators, shag carpeting and bucket chairs, the best found art seems to induce a mixed reaction of cozy nostalgia and utter bemusement.

Perez began looking for found items as a thrift-store obsessed teenager in Nanaimo, B.C.

The town has what Perez says are “The most thrift stores per capita” in the country. To a found art collector, thrift stores and garage sales are better than Disneyland. They are ideal sites to troll for other people’s personal miscellanies.

“Thrift stores are amazing for their bulk of obsolete items,” Perez said.

Perez began shopping for quirky treasures and acquired a job at a used bookstore at the same time, finding texts like Italian school books and a tract accusing the current King of Spain—Juan Carlos—of being a Satanist.

Those who don’t have an affinity for musty attics or thrift shop finds might question the validity of reclaiming an object that already exists. Is found art a truly viable medium?

Perez thinks it is. He cited the “ready-made” art revolution of Marcel Duchamp as an example of how found art has evolved.

“Found art seems to fit with a lot of younger people’s sense of irony, camp and do-it-yourself style,” Perez said.

“And when people take found items and glue them together, it’s sort of lazy, but appealing ... it’s like slacker art.”

“We have such an abundance of ‘things’ in our culture ... and this is one way of doing something with them.”

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