Personally, I would not want the contents of my purse to be immortalized forever – publicly – in any medium, be it for the sake of art or not. No one needs to see the chaos that resides in my carryall, ‘cos it seriously carries it all from crushed up crackers, to three different kinds of cough drops to a variety of rocks and leaves that my daughter asks me to carry. But apparently there is a certain allure to being a voyeur of this very personal space in a woman’s world, a place where few are not forbidden from venturing into, be it friends or families. Recently, there have been several artists – from traditional illustrators, to photographers to those who are more conceptual - who are exploring this hidden world of women.
On Wednesday, an exhibition of the work of Hans-Peter Feldmann opened at the Serpentine Gallery in London. One of the highlights? His display of the entire contents of women’s purses under glass – as the gallery stated – “making passing fashions and lifestyle choices the object of display and public discussion.” And Feldmann paid a price for the privilege of invading their privacy, at the tune of €500 each. His fascination with handbags has haunted him for eons telling The Guardian, “I remember my mother and her handbag and it was a taboo to look at what was in it, a really strict taboo.”
But Feldmann is not the only artist to explore the contents of a woman’s purse. The French photographer Pierre Klein created a show entitled “Elles Vident Leur Sac” that featured photos of all the items of the subjects handbags carefully displayed on a hot pink background. Klein noted of the intimacy of looking into the purses saying, “each object was linked to some anxiety or fear, with a story of its own.” As part of his project, Klein also video taped each woman emptying out her purse and found that they would soon start going into very personal details about their lives.
Jean-Claude Kaufmann, a research sociologist, wrote a thesis on the subject of women’s purses (“The Bag, a Small World of Affection”) and discovered something interesting about what women carry noting that, “there are two categories of object: things women consider essential (phone, keys, tissues, aspirin, makeup, wallet); and the rest, all the apparently useless treasures related to memorable events, emotions and superstition.”
Le Monde notes that: “One of the reasons women carry so much in their bags is that they act as “resource persons”, according to Kaufmann. For the benefit of children, their partner, friends, relations or even workmates, their bag is full of comforters, items such as biscuits, wipes, sweets, tissues, water.”
Taking the contents of women’s bags to a more whimsical place is the illustrator (and Etsy seller) Kristina Hultkrantz from Stockholm, Sweden. The artist has done a series of pieces (in collaboration with Matchbook Magazine) called “What’s in My Bag” which imagines what would have been in the purses of famous women of the past and present from Sofia Coppola to Coco Chanel to Jane Austin.
Check out some of the work of the artists exploring the contents of purses right here:
Would you ever want the contents of your purse to be shared with the world?
Above Image: Serpentine Gallery