I am just over half way through this residency. I thought I’d stop to have a quick think about Object Biography and take a moment to flesh out some ideas.
One of the methods to this work, Taking an Object for a Walk, involves taking a look into the biography of our chosen objects to find what themes and narratives emerge. Using these themes and narratives we are then inspired to travel by foot to a specific location or to look for specific things as well stroll the city streets.
Most of the time there has not been sufficient information at hand to gather much knowledge of the object’s past life, so aspects of an object’s biography often have to be imagined. On occasion V and I have “interviewed” our object and imagined the responses. We whisper towards it and wait for a response.
Object Biography is more of a social analysis of an object, rather than just facts about it’s function, dating, and style. The central idea behind delving into an object’s biography is to acknowledge how objects are transformed over time, and that objects have relationships with people and other objects – a social life. These social interactions create meaning. These meanings can change and are renegotiated over time. (Gosden & Marshall 1999). V and I have been walking with different types of objects. Some are artefacts, objects that had a different life before their current apparent stasis in the museum, and some are artworks, which presumably are quite at home in a museum as this was most likely their intended destination. What is an honour to some objects, might be death to others. Does that English Delftware wine bottle (c. 1659) really want to be sat in the Gardiner Museum? Wouldn’t it prefer to be carried about with wine sloshing in its cavity, lips at its spout?
Am I getting carried away here?
In the same institution we can find objects that definitely had a different life, far away from the environmentally controlled vitrines of the museum and some objects whose creators hoped and intended that their work of art would end up in such an institution, admired by many.
The main thing I am getting at here is, how does a project like Taking an Object for a Walk extend an object’s meaning beyond the museum walls? Some objects, a painting perhaps, were intended to inspire, instill wonder and emotion. Some artworks may be a call to action in someway. Some will inspire subsequent objects to be made – be it another artwork, song, poem, architecture. Other objects were created for very practical purposes – the wine vessel for example – and they could almost be considered “dead”, now that they are on display. Or are these artefacts just “dead” to historians and archeologists?
Does a painting come alive and a drinking vessel die in the museum? Should we be favouring the objects who were not created to be on display in the museum, so that we can extend their lives and help them break free from the museum confines? Or does the chance to be in a museum extend the life of the drinking vessel, when it would otherwise be forgotten, broken, and returned to dust?
What I have read about Object Biography has been about how to dig deeper into the social relationships of archeological artefacts. These biographies tend to end at the museum where the object is now held. There is no acknowledgement of the ongoing social interactions, of the new relationships formed by the surrounding objects on display, of how a visitor/viewer, may extend the life of an object in a myriad of ways. Taking an Object for a Walk is a way of extending an object’s meaning and life beyond the museum walls. These new lives are produced in the minds of museum goers, and in this case in these blog posts, and on our walks. V and I are getting “social” with these objects. More on all this in a later post.
In the coming weeks: The “newcomer” experience, the walk itself, more museum visits, and some final reflections.
Chris Gosden & Yvonne Marshall (1999) The cultural biography of objects, World Archaeology, 31:2, 169-178