The Nature of Objectness
The nature of an object tends not to be given much consideration. It is taken for granted, accepted as a crucial link in the fabric of reality. This solid misconception begins to fracture when the nature of reality itself is questioned. Reality is a fragile construction, subjected to both a society and to an individual. Different cultures and perspectives determine the reality with which one is presented, for no one reality is universal (Berger and Luckmann 6). Objects are thus caught in a maelstrom of subjectivity, their very nature determined by the people they interact with (4). Today’s neoliberal capitalist society places objects in a predicament rarely envisioned by previous generations. The very essence of the object has been reinterpreted into commodities, or more clearly stated, “commodities made of money” (Simon 5). The objects themselves thus become replaced by their symbolic value, and these symbols are superficially constructed. With the liquefaction of the world’s economy, the “symbol (money)” has been swapped with what it signifies and has become itself “material” (5). The object looses its materiality, its contextual spacing in the web of history. At stated by Marx in half of the 19th century, the memory of the object, its contextual history, much like everything else in a capitalist society “melts in air” and is fractured from our connection to a sensory reality (qtd. in Berman). In my project, Nature of Objectness, I tackle this process of liquefaction through the creation of my own archive of objects. In the construction of this archive, I underline the inherent contradiction of reconstructing memory. Instead of shying away from this grey area, I embraced it, using it as a lens through which we can attempt to analyze other elements of society.
The Parasite Within the Archaic Cage of History
The first task I underwent was the reconstruction (deconstruction) of the object’s contextual history. I appropriated four found objects, which I altered in small intrinsic ways. I then drew out the linguistic, sociological and cultural history of the objects, weaving them together through a fabric of intertextual linkages. In doing so, I placed myself in an uncomfortable, seemingly manipulative, position. I became an agent of misappropriation, similar to anyone who attempts to act as a mediator between an audience and history. Recently, instead of fleeing from this area of uncertainty, artists have exploited their deconstructive power to indicate realms of the past that were previously unexplored. Archival artists in particular, artist that work with archives, have always walked the insidious path between appropriation and misinterpretation. In an attempt to “replace a misplaced past, to collate different signs, sometimes pragmatically, sometimes paradoxically, to ascertain what may remain for the present,” narratives have been reconstructed and redirected, memories misplaced (Foster 21).
In his lecture, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Jackes Derrida acknowledges the awkward position of the artist/archiver/historian. Derrida describes how the Archive plays the role of consignation, or the “gathering together of signs” (Derrida 10). This drive to archive is, in essence, the “act to coordinate a single corpus, in a system of synchrony in which all elements articulate the unity of an ideal configuration” (10). Thus the archive, in its desire to classify, has the dualistic ability to divide and to “bring together” objects and symbols into a unifying whole (10). This quality of colliding and juxtaposing disperse and similar objects into a lexicon or history can only exist if it is permitted “by the right that authorizes it” (10). Archives are thus dominated by an institutional power structure that “imposes a bundle of limits which have a history, a deconstruct able history (…)” (10). The archive is a subjective construction, and the people who maintain it, “have the powers to interpret the archives” (10). History and the context associated with an archive is thus a construction of a power structure and plays with the interest of the dominant hegemonic force of the time.
Artists themselves parasitically reinterpret archives to manipulate the fluid nature of history. They latch on to a system and employ the model of a parasite “as a means of surveying, articulating, questioning, and contaminating tools to determine loopholes, interdependencies, and positions within effective relations” of existing structures (Fitzpatrick 4). The artist has the prime opportunity to employ the existing systems in order to undermine their hegemonic tendencies. The artistic archivist thus seeks to make “historical information, that was often lost of misplaced, physically present” (Foster 5). Archives have often been depicted as “the place from which order is given,” and thus can be attributed to the process of censorship (Darrida 9). Artists take this same practice but they turn it on its head, retrieving “gestures of forgotten knowledge and counter memory” (Foster 5). The archive in this way becomes a repository for the lost things of society, those things that have been excluded from the tale of history. It is used to “replace a misplaced past, to collate different signs, sometimes pragmatically, sometimes paradoxically, to ascertain what may remain for the present” (21). As the artist Matthew Buckingham once stated, the act of reconstructing the past is the “means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger” (qtd. in “Artist as Historian*” 147).
My own attempt to reinhabit history was parasically situated within an institution of learning: a library. I appropriated the wall space of the library, more accurately, the library’s technology conference room. This space is generally employed to host meetings involving various components of the library and university’s tech services. While it is freed from its formal duties, this space also welcomes students in search of a quiet setting in which to conduct their studies. The project thus can be seen as another decorative installation, black noise on the wall, which merely plays the role “of being a nuisance (…)” or a study distraction (Fitzpatrick 4). My project used the lexicon and language of the location in which it was situated, alluding to the technological, scientific and scholarly research conducted in the very institution that it claimed as home. It thus employed the “codes and formats of institutional address” in order to create static in the intuitions modes of communication (10). I essentially robbed the tongue “seen as a vehicle for authoritative hailing,” and replaced it with my own historical contextualization (10). In my case, this contextualization took the form of a large graph in which I interconnected all the objects epistemologies. This image was then paired with the portraits of the objects themselves.
The Performance of an Illusory Time
While the pictures of the objects, alongside a visualization of their contextual histories, embody the heart of The Nature of Objectness, there is a final missing component. I had, in essence, established myself as a form of hegemonic institution, without leaving the spectator room to question my authority. Instead of backing out of this uncomfortable corner, I embraced it whole-heartedly. I embodied the objects contextual objectness through an individual performance. To undergo this final process in my exploration I was inspired by artist such as Lygia Clark and Francis Alys, who interpreted archives through physical and tactile means. Much like Lygia Clark, I attempted to dissolve the hard edged of the object “into soft immaterial actions that had no value in themselves, only in relation to the participant that they invested with value” (Osthoff 110). The objects that I employed can almost be described as “relational objects,” which Clark declares, “establish meaning only in relation to the participant” (115). These objects, according to Clark, “stress the direct connection between the body’s physical and psychological dimension (113).
Fracis Alys, along with other artists such as Jeremy Deller, take the next step in converting performance into a form of embodiment of an archive and history. They both use reenactment to “resurrect repressed memory of a troubled period” in the world history (“Artist as Historian*”145). Francis Alys in particular employs objects and props to assist and guide his performance. Through the use of a paint can and a simple green line through Jerusalem, Francis Alys “both ridiculed (by mimicry) the Dayan’s border and resuscitated its memory” in the Israeli national consciousness (145). The objects that Francis Alys employs can be considered “relational objects,” for they acquire significance through the performative act, yet they also hold far deeper connotations. They are archival placeholders in of themselves, markers in the path of history. The performative act doesn’t just give them a new meaning; it translates their old contextualization, presenting it in a light that is more palatable to the contemporary viewer. The act becomes a form of representing the institutional power of the archiver, and their attempts to remix history.
My work borrows from both Francis and Alys and Lygia Clark, but my intentions are even more whimsical and contradictory. The objects and histories I am reinterpreting through gestures are fabricated, created for the purpose of the exhibition. The acts themselves are staged specifically for the camera. They exist solely for the purpose to be archived, to create a sense of wonder in the viewer. To a certain degree, “photography itself became part of the performance,” whether through my interpretation in the act of photographing or in framing “the final work of art born out of the performance” (Cotton 25). The entire project is thus a translation between mediums; from object to photograph, from photograph to contextualization, from contextualization to graphical outline, from outline to performance, and from performance back to photograph. Each of these processes hinges on the truthfulness of the other, but each is only one step more into an illusion. These illusory ties escape of the bounds of narrative story telling, and are in themselves a rebellion. They are silent indexes in time, quiet objects that wait to be interpreted by the subjectivity of their viewer. As they are happened upon in this public space, while I attempt to reframe their narrative, they are essentially “lost objects” (92). The artist Tacita Dean described the lost photographs she collected as “silent objects” for each is imbued with “stories they might or might tell” (“Photography Found and Lost” 92). I fabricate a constructed narrative, which could create an adjacent sense of clarity or clutter reality in a sense of “Wonder” (Wesler 150).
Conclusion: Flimsy Rebellion
Returning to the beginning, or perhaps the end, my project constructs a secondary narrative with which to consider the nature of objects. While the objects represent solid constructs, they are also metaphors for other factors in our society. While objects have been robbed of their material identity, countless living beings have fallen into the same trap. This current economy prizes fluidity; the fluid nature of “the global reach of the financial, commodity and labor markets, the capital managed modernization and also the modern mode of life” that has created a “superfluous supernumerary and redundant population” (Bauman 29). The economy that has been let off its leash in a damp watery space has inherently created human waste. The humans that can no longer be of any service to make your fancy brand of shoes have become almost nonexistent. They have lost all materiality, for they don’t have the money to acquire a symbolic value. Or perhaps they were too material, too solid, and were washed out by a world that is governed by water.
The loss of materiality and symbolic force that plagues people and objects doesn’t just mean that they remain in the shadows. It also means that they are, to some degree, stripped of their contextual history, robbed of their own story. This capitalistic censorship walks a narrow line, between monetary fundamentalism and materialistic genocide. In many cases, it causes the death of entire ecosystems and populations. It may also cost the life of the planet, for, though they would like to pretend otherwise, this planet is material. It is itself at risk of being overrun by the tide of a fluid consumption, the playful symbolic act that has extremely real and violent consequences.
In reinvigorating these objects, I am to some degree attempting to turn this watery tide. Like the parasite, who’s “interruption rejuvenates and forces evolution in the host,” I attempt to infiltrate the process of knowledge creation and to some degree change my “host” from within (Fitzpatrick 21). I thus create my own misinterpreted memory with the hope that my exploits “create an optical device with which to see relationships break down” (23). My dance between mediums is thus an attempt to make this process and its alarming consequences even more visible.
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