Used Tea Bags

COLLECTOR: PATTI GAAL-HOLMES, 32000 ITEMS

My collection is composed of teabags or loose tea. I’ve no idea how many I have. Once a newspaper said 32,000, so I have lots, a few suitcases full. I only collect tea that I’ve used myself or shared in a pot with someone. In this way the collection becomes a kind of record of personal consumption.

This current collection started in June 1999. After making my cup of tea, each bag is placed onto a strip of paper to dry, leaving a teabag stain. Each of these strips of paper measures 6 by 31 inches and all the teabag-stains form a line along the paper. All of the strips of paper are numbered. I have 821 strips of paper, and together they measure about 710 yards. I store the dry teabags in old suitcases.

If I’m having tea in a cafe, I’m already thinking rather anxiously about how I can whip the bag out of the pot and stash it in my bag.
Patti Gaal-Holmes, 44, Portsmouth, UK

The teabags stretch across my studio floor and lend a sense of reassurance, as I have been ‘living’ with them for some time now. They also remind me of the passing of time — that I’ve been here a while and sometimes when the small moments seem difficult to endure, it’s a good reminder to draw back and see the bigger picture. They mean a lot to me. What I love is that each teabag is a capsule of time — of growing, harvesting, drying, storing and packaging. This points further back to a long and varied history, dating back to the early 17th century when tea was first imported to Europe from China.

These teabags are full of memories, some of which I write down in notebooks, especially the ones shared in a pot with others: a big pot of tea and chocolate cake with my family, or sitting at the beach with the warm sun, gulls and a small breeze, or in Africa (my home) looking out across Kalk Bay, which I love.

The accumulation of used teabags — stored in the fridge until I get to the studio — can also be annoying. The glaring question is whether there is any method in this madness. But then there is the calm that is afforded me when I place each teabag on the paper and they’re all lined up stretching across the floor, or I smell them upon opening the studio door.