Once, Upon An Object

Written for the exhibition ‘You And That Thing There’ held at the APT Gallery, from  14 February – 3 March 2014.

Let me tell you a thing. Once upon an object, there … No … Let me try again … The object is a foreign country; it does things differently … No. No, no, no … Let’s change tack; let’s work from the outside.

First, send your glance towards those things. There they lie, littering the ground, cast aside but then brought ‘out of chance’, standing bare. Cast your eyes over that pile of evocative objects, and feel the pull of their (attempted) seduction. Now, turn your head to rest your gaze on that abandoned desk, with its top right-hand drawer half-open, offering a glimpse of some rifled-through paraphernalia whose secret magical lives appear to loiter in the half-light. And there, behind you, those one hundred objects, served up and unveiled one after another, as artefacts through which have been built a story of the world.

And yet.

And yet these evocations, these invocations, these excavations never suffice. For even through these pullings, and yankings, and draggings, and riflings, and unveilings – the ‘push, pull, open, close, lift, clamp, rotate, load, position, index, transfer, turn, handle, feed, stop’ of the everyday – the objects object. They remain those things – those thingamabobs, those whatchamacallits, those thingamajigs – perpetually escaping attempts at locating them; constantly in the act of deferring, bowing out and then withdrawing.

However these acts are not violent ones; when things take their leave of you, there is no rejection; they are not against you. Rather they are doing things differently; they are being things differently. It’s nothing personal.

Sometimes, these things are flabby, amorphous masses that ooze in their seeming obsequiousness. Other times, they are drawn taut, weighted and reverberating under their own tensile pressure as an act of refusal. Most times they are oscillating between the two forms, between being compliant and disobedient.

And yet in all these things’ shapeshifting, their illusory promises remain stable.

The time will come, they whisper, the time will come when the ties that bind your arms will decay, when you will be able to stand unencumbered and loose limbed. Turn around and walk out of the cave: come and find us. As you cross the threshold and feel the ground beneath your feet, as you stand squinting in the face of the blinding light without, then they will begin their tale: “Once upon an object, there ….”

Notes 1: Hatty Nestor (BA History of Art Student, Goldsmiths), Conversation, 28 January 2014. 2: @knowpresent, 5 February 2014, 08:56.

Texts and Other Things Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology; Or, What It’s Like to be a Thing, University of Minnesota Press, 2012 // Steven Connor, Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things, Profile, 2011 // Martin Heidegger, ‘The Thing’, in Poetry, Language, Thought, translated and introduced by Albert Hofstadter, Harper and Row, 1971 // Neil McGregor, The History of the World in 100 Objects, Penguin, 2012 // ‘The Disobedient Object’ Exhibition, V&A Museum, 26 July 2014 – 1 February 2015 //  Sherry Turkle (ed.), Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, The MIT Press, 2011.