A few more thoughts on Objects

Sitting on a park bench in the shade near Tunel, in Istanbul, finishing Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence and visiting the site where it is still being finished, got me thinking more about objects and the way they function as portals into the realm of memory. (Which just reminds me of Proust, how the whole 3,000 page collection of his memories of Remembrance of Things Past begins with him reflecting about the cup of tea and biscuit he’s having brings him memories of childhood – I need to turn that into a project one of these days…)

I did an art project in the final year of my undergrad. Now I’m not much of an artist, and only took Intro to Visual Culture because it was a required course, but I actually had a little bit of fun with that project. We all had to collect items and display them in the final week of class for our final exam. I started out with just a bullshit idea – ooh, I work in a bike shop. I’ll just collect flat inner tubes and throw them together in some silly way that makes it look like I tried.

Towards the end of the semester I began listening to the song “Lateralus” by the band Tool, and was quite fascinated by the lines: Feed my will to feel this moment / Urging me to cross the line / Reaching out to embrace the random / Reaching out to embrace whatever may come; and also the line: We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been / Spiral out / Keep going… I found a video that showed how it’s arranged using the Fibonacci sequence, which is a mathematical equation that graphs itself as a spiral. I began thinking about the idea of the spiral as an eternal image, and decided to arrange my collection of 75 or so inner tubes in a gigantic spiral.

As an individual object, each inner tube had its own eternity of sorts; had its own history. I remembered one tube was from some guy who had bought a GMC bike that was absolutely destroyed, and he always got flat tires. By the time he dumped $12 on each flat repair (not to mention all the tires he went through too!), he could have gotten a much better bike. But he loved that rusty GMC. Still does, for all I know. I haven’t been there in a while. Then another one was from an old timer at the shop. Lars, I think. He’s got a Merlin or a Lightspeed or something. He goes way back with the shop. Other tubes probably had blown out at the valve for some reason, or someone didn’t install them right. But whatever the story was, each tube could tell a different tale. But then the collection itself had its own story. It wasn’t a collection of tubes, but a collection of stories and memories and characters at the bike shop. Arranged as a spiral, an eternal image that just keeps expanding outward (had I continued to collect the tubes), it would just be an ever expanding collection of memories, stories, and characters.

But then even further, that day that we presented our collections, there were about 25 of us showing off our collections. And each object that each student collected had its own story, its own chain of memories stored within it. And then their whole collection had its story, and then the collection of the collections (as a class)… It’s enough to make your head swirl!

Towards the end of Museum of Innocence, the main character visits thousands of museums. For one, he likes them as collections of things. Another reason is he wants to turn his collection into a museum that can effectively tell the story of his love. He says:

It was while strolling through the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona … that I first came to understand how my pure contentment flowed not just from these museums as collections, but from the harmony in the arrangement of their pictures and objects. But it was not until I visited the Museum der Dinge in Berlin, once accomodated in the Martin Gropius Building and later made homeless, that I saw this truth another way: One could gather up anything and everything, with wit and acumen, out of a positive need to collect all objects connecting us to our most beloved, every aspect of their being, and even in the absence of a house, a proper museum, the poetry of our collection would be home enough for its objects.”

This brought to mind a museum I visited last fall in Zagreb. I just happened upon it, and thought it sounded hilarious, so I stopped in to the Museum of Broken Relationships. It’s a traveling exhibit. They go to different cities asking for objects and stories. Things that remind them of a former relationship, and the story behind the object.


From the museum’s website: “Although often colored by personal experience, local culture and history, the exhibits presented here form universal patterns offering us to discover them and feel the comfort they can bring. Hopefully they can also inspire our personal search for deeper insights and strengthen our belief in something more meaningful than random suffering.”

Some memorable items were:

An axe that a girl used to destroy her girlfriend’s furniture. Said girlfriend fell in love with another woman while the other girl was traveling for three weeks. She then destroyed all of her furniture over the course of two weeks while the other girl was on a vacation with her new girlfriend.

A collection of airsick bags from a long distance relationship where the only things left were things to spew into.

A frisbee that was an anniversary present. It was their final anniversary.

A sideview mirror, after girl discovered boy’s car parked at the wrong house overnight, and boy paid for his infidelity with a sideview mirror. He came home the next morning with a story about hooligans messing with his car.

A love letter written from a young boy to a young girl at a refugee camp in Bosnia in the 90s. He wrote it to her after meeting her a few times, but never saw her again to give it to her.

A series of stuffed animals that were presents. “Our relationship began with puppy love, but ended in monkey business.”

A boyfriend’s overnight bag that he never bothered to pick up.

A fake pair of breasts that boy wanted girl to wear, but she didn’t want to, and things just got weird after that.

A pair of candy panties that were never worn with the same story….

The list went on and on, and there were different wings depending on the nature of the item and the manner of the demise of the relationship. I’d love to see how the collection expands. And we all have objects like this of some sort. I remember I was at a friend’s place and accidentally dropped a plate. It was a cool homemade ceramic plate, and I felt quite bad. But I was reassured: Don’t worry Sven, one of Jeff’s ex-girlfriends made those for him. I love it when they break.

I don’t think I have any deep conclusions to make from all these ramblings. Just that it’s fun to think about I guess. How every object we have has a story to be told, how it can evoke a distant past just in looking at it or holding it. And, to go back to my last post, that it’s a disappointing aspect of the world of digital photography, that photographs and albums as physical things to hold, manipulate, show, bend, twist, age and fade, is disappearing.

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