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White Elephant - Elephant in Elephant

1010 Third Street SE, Cedar Rapids, IA, 2011; The White Elephant

A White Elephant is "a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit," and/or "an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others." (Merriam-Webster) My installation, Elephants in Elephant, focuses on the ironies inherent in this definition, both personally and publicly.

1010 Third Street SE is an historical Cedar Rapids, Iowa building dating back to the 1880s. As the second home built in the Czech neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, it represents a rich local cultural history. The building has been a family home, a jewelry business, and finally from 1938 to 2008 a much loved "riches to rags" thrift store named The White Elephant.

In 2008, the building's name became its reality. A devastating flood filled the building with thirteen feet of river water. Unsafe and dirty, The White Elephant was physically worthless, but sentimentally priceless.

My installation at 1010 Third Street focuses on the paradox of a white elephant. Entering the dark abandoned building through a plywood covered storefront, visitors cross a gutted open space and go up a dilapidated staircase to reach a light filled front room. Three windows give a view of the now empty lots across the street. The neighborhood is nearly empty.

On the floor below the windows lies a large elephant-shaped white fleece rug. On the wall directly to the left are four knick-knack shelves each with a unique elephant tchotchke. In the corner sits Mr. White. With his large elephant ears and his laptop, he offers peanuts and light conversation as he surfs Craigslist and Ebay for other "white elephants". If asked, Mr. White, a kind and generous soul, tells personal stories about each elephant in the room. Just behind the open door one spies a large unsightly pile of old clothes and debris.