Autobiographies of broken toy cars: between patina and restoration

Gabe Moshenska (UK)

Blue Bird Sessions on Thursday 29 October 15:00 GMT @Gabemoshenska

Note: this event will take place on Twitter

What makes a memory object? Does patina signify a long and storied life? What does it mean to restore a memory object to its long-forgotten original state? This paper is a reflection on themes of nostalgia, artefact biographies, the conquest of time, and the denial of aging. 

Last year I started buying old Matchbox die-cast toy cars. I had a collection of these when I was very young: I used to push them around in a pram. I wanted to replicate this childhood collection. Luckily many junk shops have boxes of battered old toy cars for 50p each. I bought dozens. 

I also began watching YouTube videos of Matchbox car restorers, who carefully repaint and reassemble these tiny toys to perfection. This is now a popular television genre: shows like The Repair Shop and Car SOS, in which a broken heirloom or classic car is painstakingly restored, ending with the reveal of the revitalised object to the tearful, thrilled owner. I love it, but I’m also a bit sceptical. 

What’s lost when patina is stripped away? Authenticity, episodes in a biography, and generally the passage of time. A bare-metal restoration presents us with a time-travelled object, as if by magic. This theme has roots in mythology: the broken sword re-forged, the dirty rags transformed to shining armour, the old made new again in a spiral of fairy-dust. 

The patina on my 50p toy cars represents the passage of a lifetime, childhood play, and memories – none of them actually mine. Meanwhile restoration is presented as a near-magical triumph of materials over time. I think there’s fun and interesting ideas to explore here about materiality, time, mortality, authenticity, and linear and non-linear artefact biographies.