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Worthless Shop: finding beauty in trash

Published 7 Sep 2016 at 10:24 by Liedewij Loorbach

A comb with only one tooth will earn you 50 fluts. A burned out, rusty battery: 1 flut. A hair you just pulled off your head? The shop attendants are relentless: that’s just plain fraud. Purposefully making objects useless is the opposite of what De Waardeloze Winkel (‘The Worthless Shop’) is all about: giving value to the worthless.

The kilometer surrounding the Kids Headquarters of Into the Great Wide Open festival has got to be spotless by now. Hundreds of kids foraged about, searching the ground for useless objects. With their discoveries – bits of plastic, ice cream wrappers, sticks – they easily waited a solid 15 minutes in line to the Waardeloze Winkel, by artist Pavèl van Houten. The mobile shop’s next stop is Mercatorplein in Amsterdam. Once again, children and adults are invited to seek out and show up with things that no longer have a purpose.


Once your up, a shop assistant will take a long, hard look and value your objects. Things will be weighed, others will be observed through a magnifying glass, some will even be tested. A plastic fork with only one tooth is still great for poking things. Hence: not useless. A post-it note with “Too late!” written on it was deemed worthless during Into the Great Wide Open, after a lengthy investigation and the conclusion that it was no longer sticky. The note was valued at 15 fluts.


Van Houten wants to “illuminate the worthlessness, that keeps being shoved aside and kept in the dark”. “It makes people really happy. Something that is trash is suddenly given a positive evaluation. The label ‘worthless’ suddenly becomes valuable.”

The idea struck the artist during a prior project at Into the Great Wide Open. “We played with everything together with the kids: blades of grass, toilet paper, and so on. The best things were things we didn’t recognize. They stimulated our imagination. We used our senses to asked questions. What is this? What can we do with it? It was, in fact the things that had lost their purpose that made us most creative.”

From that came the Waardeloze Winkel and the Waardeloze Museum; the shop that gives worthlessness economic value, the museum that provides trash with cultural and historic value. Both tour to festivals and locations that want them. The worthless objects are beautifully displayed in glass pots. The shop provides a price, which can be paid in the imagined currency flut (‘flut’ means baloney in Dutch).

How do you get your hands on this currency? By submitting worthless things. The more worthless and more unique in its worthless, the more valuable the object is in fluts. And the shop assistants are strict. “Recently we saw a group of kids pulling out hairs and biting off nails to submit,” Van Houten recalls. “But that’s fraud. We don’t accept that.”


The Waardeloze Winkel is not a kid’s attraction. Van Houten has seen a bigger impact on adults. “It’s very natural for kids to pick things up off the floor and let their imagination wander. The older those who visit are, the more fascinating the project. Older people have to put in more effort to adjust their understanding of value, and overcome a hurdle to see the objects surrounding them in a different light.”

The Waardeloze Winkel will set up shop on Mercatorplein on 13 September until 17 September and is open from 11:00 – 17:00.

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