Tag Archives: the life of objects

365 Days of Obsolescing

Initially begun as a 30 day project  documenting things that are obsolescing in my life, I’ve now gathered steam and am continuing on until I run out of objects. Everyday I will photograph things hanging around in my studio (or bring them from my apartment) that I am classifying as either obsolete, or becoming obsolete. In a nutshell — clutter. — Deanne Achong, The Obsolescence Project

It seems fitting, given Obsolescing’s retrospective focus, that I’m informing you of Deanne Achong’s brilliant blog, The Obsolescence Project, after it’s already ended. For 365 days (with minimal breaks for flu, a wedding, and other of life’s interruptions), Achong, a Vancouver-based artist, has documented a different “useless object” each day.

Day One, February 1, 2012, the blog begins with a light meter and a straightforward, bare-bones caption:

Day One – Light Meter

Light Meter I bought at a garage sale a few years ago. Love the leather case. I did use a light meter like this when I first went to art school.

On Day 365, the Obsolescence Project concludes with a picture of a fossil, an ending that takes us back to distant beginnings, where the ephemeral also endures.

The end takes us back to distant beginnings, where the ephemeral also endures.

Day 365 – Fossil

Achong follows a simple formula, which evolves over time: simple close-up photographs accompanied by short captions. The objects portrayed range from true treasures (fine china, old leather-bound books) to true trash (broken lamps, old power cords). Yet hers is a leveling eye. The sharp gaze of her camera lens exalts the lowly and humbles the proud. The obsolete parade by without value assigned, certainly not monetary value (though she will sometimes reveal what she paid — or didn’t — for something, especially if a treasure was plucked from a trash bin). Achong’s aim is not so much to reveal an object’s beauty, though her photos accomplish that, as to reclaim the trivial, broken and outdated.

The Obsolescence Project is in one sense a year-long artist’s manifesto, in which Achong considers her own magpie tendencies:

As an artist, I have kept a lot of stuff. Thinking one day it might have some kind of value. Not eBay value (although there’s that too) but become an idea for a project. Possibly I’ve imagined these things might magically assemble themselves into another type of object, present themselves to me as a story or at least a lead on a narrative that I want to pursue. I’m not giving up that hope, but I am hoping that by documenting their presence, I might detach from them and make the leap towards shoving (some of ) them out the door.

As our guide to this successive collection, Achong is inquisitve and wry, never authoritarian. She muses, rather than asserts. She usually shows her pieces from a variety of angles, then writes about its personal associations — where she acquired it, what she thought she might do with it. As her approach developed over time, she did research as well, so the curious reader will learn interesting facts about an object’s origin and history or even, say, how many Viewmasters appear for sale on E-bay.

Though this phase of the Obsolescence Project has now ended, this is a perfect time to go back and review the whole. Following Deanne’s process as she shapes the blog and discovers in the daily practice of photographing and writing exactly what she is doing, is fascinating and rewarding — a privileged glimpse of an artist at work.

On that last day, last February, I was  happy to read  that the Obsolescence Project will not itself become obsolete. Achong is taking a break after her (nearly) daily documentation over the course of a year and then plans to move on to Phase II — content and focus not yet announced.

I can’t wait! Brava Deanne!

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In Trust

In the opening paragraphs of the short story “In Trust,” Australian writer David Malouf articulates so eloquently the themes of Obsolescing, that I’m quoting amply here, no need of my own interpretation or explanation. The boldface is my own. I hope that the copyright lords will be appeased if I urge you to read this book, even buy this book (The Complete Stories. New York: Vintage 2007), or anything else the masterful Malouf has written, for that matter.

We’ll let these paragraphs stand as our epigraph for 2012:

There is to begin with the paraphernalia of daily living: all those objects, knives, combs, coins, cups, razors, that are too familiar, too worn and stained with use, a doorknob, a baby’s rattle, or too swiftly in passage from hand to mouth or hand to hand to arouse more than casual interest. They are disposable, and are mostly disposed of without thought. Tram tickets, matchboxes, wooden serviette rings with a poker design of poinsettias, buttonhooks, beermats, longlife torch batteries, the lids of Doulton soup tureens, are carted of at last to a tip and become rubble, the sub-stratum of cities, or are pulped and go to earth; unless, by some quirk of circumstance, one or two examples are stranded so far up the beach in a distant decade that they become collectors’ items, and then so rare and evocative as to be the only survivors of their age.

Survivors of their age, from The Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, Vermont museumofeverdaylife.org

So it is in the life of objects. They pass out of the hands of their first owners into a tortoiseshell cabinet, and then, whole or in fragments it scarcely matters, onto the shelves of museums. Isolated there, in the oddness of their being no longer common or repeatable, detached from their history and from the grime of use, they enter a new dimension. A quality of uniqueness develops in them and they glow with it as with the breath of a purer world — meaning only that we see them clearly now in the light of this one. An oil-lamp, a fragment of cloth so fragile that we feel the very grains and precious dust of its texture (the threads barely holding in their warp and woof), a perfume flask, a set of taws, a strigil, come wobbling towards us, the only angels perhaps we shall ever meet, though they bear no message but their own presence: we are here.

It is in a changed aspect of time that we recognise them, as if the substance of it — a denseness that prevented us from looking forward or too far back– had cleared at last. We see these objects and ourselves as co-existent, in the very moment of their first stepping out into their own being and in every instant now of their long pilgrimage towards us, in which they have gathered the fingerprints of their most casual users and the ghostly but still powerful presence of the the lives they served.

…We stare and are amazed. Were they once, we ask ourselves, as undistinguished as the buttons on our jacket or a stick of roll-on deodorant? Our own utensils and artefacts take on significance for a moment in the light of the future. Small coins glow in our pockets. Our world too seems vividly, unbearably present, yet mysteriously far off.

David Malouf, “In Trust,” The Complete Stories (New York: Vintage, 2007) pp.478-479