Gum and Wire – 2005

Teri Rueb and Mare Tralla


Chewing Gum & Colored Wire Shopping, whether for subsistence or leisure, is an everyday experience that becomes extremely potent and emotionally charged as personal memory. Most of us carry vivid childhood impressions of accompanying our mothers on shopping trips. As we grow up, the marketplace becomes an important arena in which we begin to understand and test our individual and collective social identity. This project takes the simple premise - that our recollections of mundane shopping experiences hold deep cultural meaning and value - and explores it across two contexts, Estonia and the US during the period of the Cold War. Casual conversations with Estonian and American women who grew up and raised families during the Cold War expose the myriad ways in which gender, class, politics, and the personal are inextricably linked in the mundane act of shopping. Two installations will be presented: the first in Tallinn at the Viru Keskus in August 2005; the second at a shopping mall in the suburban US in Fall 2006. Conversations will be made available as CD recordings that visitors may listen to while following recommended routes through each respective shopping center. The web site provides additional documentation of the project as well as contact information for those who wish to contribute stories of their own to the project. For further information contact the artists: Mare Tralla and Teri Rueb at

Chewing Gum & Colored Wire refers to a phrase that was commonly used in Soviet times when asking a friend to bring Western goods back from a trip abroad..."Bring me some chewing gum and colored wire!" While it once referred literally to gum and colored wire - highly sought after items - it came to signify all things Western that could only be had through elaborate smuggling or blackmarket exchange. Today the phrase is still used by younger generations, yet many are not aware of its origin. It's reference to western goods has been stripped away as it now simply means "bring me something cool from your trip". We find this phrase interesting as a title because so many of the shopping stories shared by the women we interviewed reveal extraordinary accumulations of value and meaning around some of the simplest and most mundane objects or products, from food to fashion. These are prosaic, humorous, and often sad or disturbing stories, familiar to many, yet fragile as they are often overlooked, actively suppressed, or forgotten aspects of personal and political history.

With this project we explore our gendered relationship to the marketplace - and to global politics - as it is expressed through the act of shopping. Two groups of storytellers are presented in this project: women who grew up and raised families during the Cold War in eastern europe and those who did so in the West. Once on opposite sides of the iron curtain, we are now on the "same side", immersed in late capitalist consumer culture. The shopping mall, a generic and ubiquitous space of spectacle and consumption, now exists as an almost mirror image across these cultures. The Viru, for example, flawlessly mimics any upscale suburban mall in the U.S.. Through asking contemporary shoppers to listen to these historic stories while they shop in the contemporary mall, our project seeks to reveal the powerfully charged and cultural specific nature of these spaces as they crystallize our desires and identities - then and now, in eastern and western contexts.

© Teri Rueb 2005

Please come and experience the work at the Viru Keskus by borrowing the CD and equipment (CD player) from the Center for Contemporary Arts Estonia or the eMedia Center at the Estonian Art Academy. Begin the walk at the Old Town side entrance to the Viru Keskus. Maps are available in Estonian and English

You may also download and listen to shopping stories from this web site. 

Share your own shopping stories by contacting the artists.

Chewing Gum & Colored Wire was made possible with funding from CEC Artslink. 

special thanks to our families and friends: