Mermaids

COLLECTOR: MERI LAO, 9812 ITEMS

A collection should impose limits on itself. But I chose an ‘object’ which knows no bounds. Sirens, mythological bird-women, pre-olympic goddesses that seduce through sublime song, fish women demonised by Christianity, are powerful female symbols which are in continuous metamorphosis, capable of bringing to mind the images of the prehistoric goddess, or of manifesting as an ‘alarm siren’, acoustic instruments of pure and disquieting sound…

It’s the first time that I think of mermaids as collector’s items, even though they have become a recurring thought for me.
Meri Lao, 82, Rome, Italy

A crucial part of my collection is the bibliographic part, which is made up of more than 1,700 items that I keep on display in my bookshelves at home and in boxes in my attic. The image part is made up of about 8,000 photographs (kept in envelopes with purchasing documents, reproduction rights, and so on) and slides (32 carousels of 80 slides each); a third of it is in digital format now. I catalogued them in numerical order by date of entry, and by letter according to theme or any morphological distinguishing marks. The letter A (the most high-profile) is given to the winged sirens of ancient mythology; the letter D to the two-tailed mermaids found in Romanesque churches — my favourites and the strangest, most impertinent and insolent of the sirens; the letter E to the object they hold in their hands — a musical instrument, or later, a mirror or a comb. Then I classified them according to nationality: the pre-Raphaelite mermaids from England, at the peak of their beauty, and so on.

A series of CDs, VHS tapes, amateur videos and DVDs of mermaids in the world of music, opera and film complete the collection. In total: 112 films, or 180 hours of footage.

My mermaid collection contains an exclusive, stand-out piece, that is not available for trade. That piece is me. I used to say this as a joke, but now I am starting to believe it with a sort of agnostic fervour. My granddaughter is convinced that I was a mermaid in my youth and that several operations on my lower limbs have transformed my tail into normal women’s legs. At this point a lot of doctors see me as a clinical case of mermaid somatization, and not just experts in psychosomatic illnesses, but even a serious neurologist who operates on brains. In fact, I know a thing or two about traumas, fractures, surgical operations, Kirschner wires, screws, pins, metal plates, plaster casts, canes, wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks and rehabilitation. I’ve had seven of these ‘mermaidizations’ to date, and then they say repetition helps.