Significance In The Boring

An Artist on the ‘Magical Importance’ of a 15-Year-Old Tea Bag

I stumbled onto an article the other day from The New York Times Magazine. I, occasionally, sift through the pieces that get buried on the back end of the site and saw a series of articles from the author of “Worn Stories,” T, Emily Spivack, who conducted interviews with creative types who spoke about their most prized possessions. It was in the article, An Artist on the ‘Magical Importance’ of a 15-Year-Old Tea Bag, where I learned about Turner Prize-winning artist, Laure Prouvost, and how tea has influenced her work and life by way of a 15-year-old tea bag once used by her grandparents.

“My grandfather would use tea bags and then dry them on the heater to reuse them,” explained Prouvost. “He’d have four or five on the radiator at once. This one is a bit special. It was a tea bag my grandma put in her bath. She’d make a tea bath after the bags had been used a few times and the tea didn’t taste so good. She just enjoyed it, the color. This tea bag is turning colors; it’s a greenish color with pink. I asked my grandmother for it about 15 years ago. I keep it in a little box, a relic of my grandparents’ lives.”

A number of the videos Prouvost creates is centered around tea. Characters may ask for it, be shown sipping it, and enjoy it on the screen. People have mistaken her display where she showed a tea bag in an exhibition on a heater for a mistake. She drinks a ton of tea now that she lives in London, but in France where’s she’s from that isn’t the case.

My eyes drifted over at my own cup of tea. I had no intentions of preserving the tea bag, although I admit that I used to reuse them once after a cup to save cash while I was in college. The second cup was never as good as the first, and I was reminded of how little extra spending money I had with each sip. The first cup in college was always a calculated luxury, and now that I sit more comfortably in my full-time job post grad school I think of a cup of tea as nothing more than a simple beverage.

I took another sip of my coincidental cup of tea and thought about my own seemingly mundane objects that I found personally valuable. I could only think of my tattered journals sitting in the corner of my room. Some were diaries filled with thoughts from younger versions of me. Others were notes scribbled during interviews that I used to create my favorite journalism pieces.

There were notebooks filled with sketches and doodles, and notepads with the stream of consciousness thoughts and theories that later evolved into written short stories and blog posts. They all junked up the bottom section of my bookshelf, but I didn’t want to throw them away.

There was history woven in between the fading pages bound together with deteriorating string and melting book glue. Pages were ripping away from large staples and splitting themselves into two. It was then that I realized the significance of the used tea bag that was put on display by Prouvost.

“A tea bag is meant to be thrown away,” Prouvost went on to say. “Why would you dry it and reuse it? It makes me question how much we consume. I like that you can look at something that seems like nothing, like a very, very boring object, but it’s got so much history — about colonization, migration, wars … the whole history of tea is very complex.”

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