Story of Objects update – film collage & callout

The Story of Objects represents a return to practice, not in making objects, but in discussing them. SOO has evolved both from my work as a visual arts producer and my thinking as an artist, accompanied by a deep interest in how we engage with art.

I am intrigued by how visitors encounter art in non-gallery locations so have mostly worked in the public realm. How we talk to people about art both inside and outside galleries is imperative to our understanding of it. Yet ask someone to talk about something they keep and love they will talk endlessly, and very coherently, about it.

I became fascinated in how the term ‘curate’ is so loosely used these days – we curate essays, poems, websites, plants. And many TV programmes tell us how to display our objects in our homes – how to ‘curate’ things. So I started asking people about their objects in their homes, why are they grouped like that? Where did they get them from? What did these things mean to them? Most importantly, why do they keep it?

I found myself deeply absorbed in material culture – Daniel Miller’s books allowed me to step into another discipline, as did conversations with contemporary archaeologists. The idea for the Story of Objects began to take shape. I’ve talked to lots of people, from several disciplines:

  • Contemporary archaeologists
  • Museum specialist
  • Curators
  • Artists
  • Health providers
  • Members of the public
  • Producers – for arts and radio
  • Digital providers and app developers
  • Academics

Most recently I have hosted a number of trans-faculty conversations at De Montfort University, and thank them for their support and input.

Two years later I am still developing my thinking. I’ve collated a number of 30-second films together, which you can see below and on my YouTube Channel. It’s great to see them collated like this and I am now motivated to put out another call for films.

I’m also working towards producing a scattered-site exhibition, commissioning artists who will be invited to stories of the objects that they keep and gain inspiration from. As always, don’t expect to see these artworks in a gallery space, they will be somewhere deemed appropriate for the work and the concept.

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Autumn arrives & as the weather cools down the work activity warms up…

Settling back into my office in earnest, it’s time to consolidate plans for projects, get back in the saddle. It feels good.

An interesting article came to my attention this morning and switched me into Story of Objects (SOO) mode: “Evoking the magic in everyday life” by Sally Bland. That is a good way to describe what SOO does.

“Sometimes the connection is quite straightforward, like for the narrator of the first story who has collected objects since she was a child, concocting stories about them: “I don’t necessarily have to save, own, or touch the object. Spotting it, even fleetingly, is usually enough. But once in a while I stroke the object methodically, my fingers creating an invisible grid around it, then cradle it possessively in my arms to feel the story enter me directly.” (p. 7)”

I like that she is using the objects as connectors, as inspiration for stories. I’ve used some of the stories people told me to create Flash Fiction, there’s an example here, in response to a video-short here.

I am increasingly fascinated by how and why these objects and stories are so rich in content, what they do to our thinking, how we relate to these ‘things’. In response to my interrogation of the potential of the process, I’m planning more research to test out a range of possibilities. Like prising open a nutshell and exploring the contents, tasting them, cracking them open, sniffing them, handling them, gaining a sense of the texture.

Like autumn nuts.

EveryTHING points to The Story of Objects – metaphors abound, we can’t resist them. So maybe the sharing of these stories about personal objects can offer a way of articulating other things, opening the mind and the senses. I witnessed that when I held an encounter session with people who have dementia – the process is far more than the action.

Watch this space, as I learn more I will share on here. And am happy to discuss options with interested parties who share my curiosity. To help the story both escape and reconstruct new narratives.

 

 

Jonathan Jones talks about reassuring rubbish – I think the objects we own tell wonderful stories about people & places

Jonathan Jones has written a piece about an exhibition in New York about collections and collectors. It looks fascinating. The headline for his text is “New York art show The Keeper celebrates our poetic obsession with objects, but how many of us simply surround ourselves with familiar, reassuring rubbish?”

I beg to differ. It all depends on the context. If the context is a high profile art exhibition of objects that have been curated with quirkiness and value in mind, then maybe he is right. But if the context is a genuine investigation into how we relate to some of the objects we choose to keep, and the stories they tell of our personal history, our family’s and lives, then the objects we keep are far more than reassuring rubbish. They map our genealogy.

My research into the Story of Objects is revealing some fascinating insights into what these talismanic objects can hold for people.  They speak of our past and they also possess a future, which interestingly, few refer to unless asked. Yet people often leave objects in their wills to their loved ones, but do they tell their story to the recipients? Often, without the associated narrative, those precious things become yet another orphaned object, to be dropped off at the local charity shop as soon as the funeral is over.

In doing workshops with young and old, rarely does anyone struggle to think of a special object they own. Never have they refused to tell me why it is important to them and when they do tell me it is often the first time they have articulated that story, to anyone, ever.

I’m looking deeper into this phenomena and one of the things I’m exploring is how to capture the elements of those stories visually – not as art, not as catalogue, but as a visual record of their narrative. I’m piloting the thinga.me app and below is my first try at storyboarding with it. It is quite limited, but efficient. I’m inclined to more pared-down with my visuals, as my own graphic identity suggests. But it’s worth exploring and testing it.

This board is about something I have used for many things, a found object retrieved from a burnt out garage of a house that became my parents much-loved home. A glass bowl that has, in its lifetime, lived on a dressing table, held screws in a garage, contained earrings and now holds coconut cream.  It is a beautiful thing and a pleasure to handle – the glass is fine, the bevelled edges delicate. The silver top is dented yet still clips onto the rim securely.

It may literally hold things as a vessel, for utilitarian purposes, but it also holds memories of my parents favourite home. My parents bought it following a serious house fire and the old lady that had lived there was taken to a safer place to live.  My father died in Clematis Cottage and it was right that he should. My mother stayed for as long as she could, until she moved out just as the previous owner had.

This little pot is not just a memory of my parents home, it is also a connection to my past. It is a conduit for emotions.

I’ve tried to connect both people and places in the storyboard – am not sure it says as much as it should. I’d appreciate feedback if anyone has any.

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Story of Objects as a learning tool – changing the way we think about ‘things’

The recent research I have done has revealed that talking about objects we love, shared within a small group of people in a safe environment, can be life-changing (at its best) and very enjoyable (at its least).

It is a great way to develop storytelling techniques and to express our feelings and intellectual approach to understanding the objects we encounter in life. Most particularly, for my own practice in the arts sector, it is a way of talking about things, including art, in a new way.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain to another person why we keep something close to us forever. Sometimes it’s equally difficult to understand why we fall in love with a painting, or feel engaged by an artwork that we don’t think we even understand. Some art shuts us out in some way – we can’t even find an opening to approach it. It leaves us cold. We walk away without trying to understand it.

How can we develop tools that can help us to pursue the curiosity that art so often stimulates?

How can we see things differently?

As an adult education tutor many years ago my greatest achievement was to know that some people felt I had helped them ‘to see the world differently’.

It still makes me smile to type that.

The Story of Objects can help to do that too.

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Story of Objects – a poll – please help me learn more about how we relate to special objects in our life

I seem to have been hacked by someone – I apologise – and there are no free galaxies here!

Let’s try again….

As many people will know, I have been exploring the potential of The Story of Objects for a couple of years. Ultimately, the aim is to create an online social network for ‘things’. Feedback so far has been very positive, and the greatest pleasure is derived from sharing stories about our objects.

When I ask people if they have something – an object –  they keep with them, regardless of relocating homes, almost everyone says yes. Some people say that the thing they have is not ‘worthy’ of research – and I always respond by saying this is not about worthiness, it’s about how we endow objects with meaning and form attachments to them, for whatever reason.

There are some 30 second films for you to see here and a Facebook group here. And more information on this website too.

I’d be grateful if you would complete the simple poll  – do share with friends, the more results the more useful the learning for me. It will take only seconds to do.

Thank you!

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Call for host venues for The Story of Objects – the next phase – workshops

 

SOO yellow bar logo longJust a quick note to get you thinking over the weekend – I’m looking for hosts for the next phase of the Story of Objects – maybe it’s you?

The Story of Objects to date has very much been about ‘show and tell’ sessions, for research purposes.  The overarching vision – to create a social media network for things – is still underpinning all activity. However, the encounters have been rich and rewarding for many people.

One set of themes that came up again and again were inherited objects from family members that  relate to making or creating something. All sorts of tools and materials, artefacts and childhood memories.

I’ve been exploring how to work with the stories you’ve shared with me – there are the 30second shorts on Youtube; the Flash Fiction pieces on Medium and even a Story of Cake! The Facebook page shares news about the projects and also about other interesting object-stories from around the world – all food for thought.

The next phase will involve workshops – and I invite you to contact me if you’d like to discuss this for your organisation. I’m shaping the programme now and have some great ideas developing from the conversations so far. Each partner/collaborator is welcome to get in touch now to explore how the framework can work for you and your audiences. It is currently flexible and adaptable, which is another of features and benefits of the programme structure.

If appropriate, where a making activity is not right for the object theme, there will be an option to book a talk/presentation by a practitioner or specialist for the subject area.

I’d love to hear from arts organisations, museums, heritage organisations, material culture people, ethnographers, archaeologists and historians. Also, studios for woodworking, metal working, potteries, forges, printmaking studios, musical instrument workshops, anyone who makes – oo, and I may need a chef too!

Get in touch by email (carolyn@fkowprojects.org.uk), phone or message me via the Facebook page.

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trying out Flash Fiction with Story of Objects

I’m in the process of considering how The Story of Objects might manifest itself in the world and I continually return to the stories I am hearing and how delightful they are. It is a privilege to have them shared with me. And you. One of the issues is how to contain them and keep them manageable – for teller, writer and reader.

My first attempt to do so was to invite 30 second videos, which resulted in some wonderful stories being shared. Some fun ones, some sad ones, but mostly celebratory. The technology was a barrier for people – uploading to YouTube is not easy for those who don’t have a penchant for technology. I recently heard about Flash Fiction so did a bit of research and thought I’d try it with some of the stories. By doing this, it brings the story and the object to the fore, by using them as a starting point to create a relevant, but not necessarily true, narrative, that is focussed on the combination of the person and the thing.

For the purpose of this exercise, have a look at this one by Catherine Cartwright and this one by me.

And here are my first attempts at Flash Fiction, only 100 words each. Feedback welcomed.

Flash Fiction #001

glass bowl screen grab

She found it in the garage amongst debris and old tools, when she was nineteen years old. A small, blackened glass bowl with a lid. Inside were some rusty nails. It was charred in the fire at Clematis Cottage, before her parents restored it. Polish and soapy water revealed a silver lid and a delicate, multi-faceted storage vessel. Forty years later her daughter dips her fingers into the coconut oil it contains and asks about the pot’s history. Holly says she has always admired it. When she dies Holly will inherit it. Soon. Very soon. Somehow she must tell her. *

Flash Fiction #002

catherine cartwright screen grab

She shows me her brooch, made of South African seed beads, strung with fine threads. It is an international symbol for ‘end violence against women’, which invites conversations, like an open door. A sign of solidarity – white hand, red background – white for peace, and purity, red for anger and blood. We speak of the unspeakable in the holding space it creates, where hands can be grasped in empathy, not gripped in fear. The hand on the brooch is held out to perpetrators – it commands stop, don’t do that. No. When it speaks we must listen to her.

*Holly do not be alarmed – this is the fictional part! x