Having just written 12,000 of them, I have few words to say at the moment.
Perhaps once you’ve read it, I’ll have thought of one.
About ten months ago I was sitting at GI Festival’s Hub desk. I think it was an early Sunday morning and we were quiet. This was a voluntary gig so I figured I could peek at the copy of Frieze on the desk to fill half an hour. Sam Thorne’s ‘What’s the Use?’ has been pacing my minds-mind since that day. And perhaps now, more than ever.
Art. Use. (?)
Use Art. (!..?)
Semesters’ Thoughts. (click link)
“D’you know when you have lots of layers open on Photoshop, and then you merge the image to flat?”
You have all these relevant parts.
And then you flatten the image. All those relevant parts are still there, but you can’t pick out one in particular.
It’s a new thing. With all those old things. They’re still there… but also not… somehow…”
“If you take bowling shoes out of the alley, are they just shoes..?“
“Like, if you apply Goffman’s Frame Theory(1) to – -“
*sigh* “Why do we let the theory students work in the studio?”
(1)“Goffman (1975) argued that much of our behaviour is cued by expectations which are determined by the frames which constitute the context of action.” Miller, D. Materiality: An Introduction. 2005. Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/people/academic_staff/d_miller/mil-8
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?
I’m thinking about objects. As I often do.
Igor Kopytoff’s explanation of commodization has provided a refresher on The Social Life of Things.
Kopytoff articulates the concept of exchange spheres comparing the often non-monetized trade of African tribes with Western consumerism. He describes objects as culturally constructed entities, endowed with meaning and classified into value-categories.
The object can be commoditized, decommoditized and then, yes, recommoditized (that’s when my notes get messy). The text is very clear though and uses a lot of examples which is useful when trying to grasp a concept, such as this, which can become so circular. Examples of slavery are used, and the stigma against abortion, to demonstrate social commoditization and how a person can become a commodity.
The thingness of a person leads me to questioning the personhood of a thing.
Vital materialism is described by Jane Bennett as the capacity of the commodity to not only impede the will of humans, but to act with trajectories and tendencies of their own. Her writings on the Force of Things surpass Kopytoffs reasoned argument that objects have a social history and are impacted/impacting culture. She talks of the active powers issuing from nonhuman things and creates a vivid picture of an energised objecthood.
I’m still coming to terms with it. Upon first reading I found if difficult to move away from out-there notions and silly literal depictions. My previous writings on the supposed ordinary objects ability to be seen as an artwork have been largely centred on the white cube and contextualisation. I have largely ignored the audience in my research and must now turn attention to the object itself and this circular relationship between people and things.
As a sentimentalist, I am a believer that we bestow value and significance onto the ordinary. But that is perhaps too simplistic. I need to consider vital materialism and the draw of the object itself. Why do things affect us and where does the personhood of the object begin?
It usually ends up in a ramble or word jumble. So lets try and straighten this out a little this semester.
Does an object have agency?