InTheory Material Cultures MFA Study Residency

About Bowl


Earlier this year, during my residency at Timespan, I picked up a publication surrounding Corin Sworn’s Unsettling Provenance work. Interests fit into specific timelines sometimes. I’ve read this book previously, but it only resonated this week.

While in Helmsdale, Sworn organised Breakfast events.
This involved an invitation for members of the community to attend Timespan, bringing their own bowl, to dine together. Sworn had previously been involved in excavation activity in the area and was fascinated by the fragments of culinary objects uncovered. In Unsettling Provenance the artist photographs the towns people’s bowls as if they are archaeological finds. By placing the objects against black backdrops and giving them such attention of the lens, Sworn creates a ‘white cube situation’. She creates a context in which these objects can be perceived as valuable historical artefacts by the viewer.

They might well deserve this. A bowl is still a commonly used object and there’s obviously interest to be found in this concept, as well as the aged pieces. Cultural narrative is identified in the everyday and not only in what we deem a ‘relic’. When does an object become an artefact, then? And, what about the bowl?


Bowls (apart from knives) are the one culinary item that is present and common to all algrarian societies.”

Professor Krystyna Sieciechowicz, of the University of Toronto, insists that our enjoyment of objects is the search for meaning within them. Perhaps so.
A bowl can represent social constancy and a cultural understanding of volume. It shows the economic state of specific communities, for example, times of ration or hardship. It can articulate taste, hunger and injustice. It is a declarative object, but possibly overlooked as such, due its status as a daily used object.

Through archaeological digs, objects can live beyond individual lives to tell these tales of a prior generation. Material objects, such as the bowl, enable conversations of the past. Objects are not neutral entities, they alter human behaviour. A post-war medal surpasses metal materially and becomes a symbol of social honour. A pristine carpet provokes the taking-off of shoes when visiting an acquaintance. And the characteristics of a bowl influence our diet and provide narratives to culture-specfic diets of the past. Objects are not neutral entities, they alter human behaviour.

So an object has agency then, no?.. But these are still man-made objects. And I’m not sure how that fits in. Yet.

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