The Fallacy of Objects

‘An object no longer specified by its function is defined by the subject, but in the passionate abstractness of possession all objects are equivalent. And just one object no longer suffices: the fulfillment of the project of possession always means a succession or even a complete series of objects. This is why owning absolutely any object is always so satisfying and so disappointing at the same time: a whole series lies behind any single object, and makes it into a source of anxiety.’

Jean Baudrillard – The System of Objects

Possession is desire. Though abstract in nature, we use the means of possession to alleviate our anxieties, our fear of death, to better understand our sexuality, and to better understand the world we live in. When an object is placed within the hands of a subject, an object is more than just a mere utility, but rather a reflection, a mirror of the subject itself. However, I feel this mirror reflecting our own image is a fallacy.

Consider the last time you purchased a car. Sure you might have been looking for one that was good on gas mileage, had spacious cargo room, or could do 0-60 in 5.3 seconds; but when you remove the initial functionality of the car, what were you looking at? Perhaps you wanted one that was red because red is your favorite color, or you wanted a sporty coupe because you didn’t want to be driving around a soccer mom van. In the end, no matter what car you may have purchased, with utility functions aside, a vast majority of your decision was a reflection of who you are. Or was it?

CHOICE is crucial when understanding our relationship with objects. When we are presented with a vast array of options for a specific object, using a car as the example, we feel as though our decision to pick and choose one car over another is heavily dictated by our own actions. However, let us turn to that sporty red coupe that you just acquired. At the moment of purchase, you may have been thinking that this specific car was tailor made for you. You wanted red, you got red. You wanted a coupe, you got a coupe. However, the options that you chose for your car came from a predetermined set list of options provided by the auto manufacturer; to which anyone else in the world has the ability to pick and choose the exact same make, model, and options for a car as you did. Relatively speaking, nothing is ‘unique’ about the car because all of the options are mass-produced and available to the public. However, possession over the object, i.e. the car, completely abstracts this reality and you inevitably end up feeling good about your purchase and off the lot you go with your new coupe.

Now there is nothing wrong with purchasing a car, and I certainly do love mine, however the question that I have been increasing trying to understand is: are the objects we possess really reflecting who we are, or is everything predetermined?

As someone who collects a vast array of objects, this question has been gnawing at the back of my mind; completely tearing apart my happy-go-lucky attitude toward collecting. I think about the hundreds of Pokémon cards within my personal collection. To me, they are one of a kind, special, unique, valuable, etc. They reflect my love of Pokémon, and my dedication to preserving the nostalgia from when I was a kid. However, I am not the only one in the world who thinks this way about Pokémon cards. Not to mention, the cards are also heavily mass produced; readily available to the public in every shopping center and online store available. Yet, I will probably go out and keep collecting more cards in the future knowing full well that the end of my collection will never come.

Now I do believe that possession is desire, as mentioned early in this post. However, I also feel that possession is an addiction that is constantly being fed by outside sources. If we place so much of our sense of self into the objects we possess, yet the objects made available to us are predetermined by manufacturers, what does that say about our sense of self? Is it real or is it a fallacy?

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Life Through Materiality

‘It is in this sense that the environment of private objects and their possession (collection being the most extreme instance) is a dimension of our life which, though imaginary, is absolutely essential. Just as essential as dreams. It has been said that if dreams could be experimentally suppressed, serious mental disturbances would quickly ensue. It is certainly true that were it possible to deprive people of the regressive escape offered by the game of possession, if they were prevented from giving voice to their controlled, self-addressed discourse, from using objects to recite themselves, as it were, outside time, then mental disorder would surely follow immediately, just as in the case of dream deprivation. We cannot live in absolute singularity, in the irreversibility signaled by the moment of birth, and it is precisely this irreversible movement from birth towards death that objects help us to cope with.’

-Jean Baudrillard

 

Over the last few days I have been completely immersed within writings pertaining to the theory of possession and the system of objects; and I grow more giddy with excitement with every page turn. For the longest time I had been focusing my attention solely on the psychoanalysis of collecting/hoarding; which over time has expanded into an overall analysis of possession and an objects impact on our sense of self. Much of the research that had been conducted on my part was void of any theoretical influences; or at least conscious awareness of theoretical influences. As I read through Jean Baudrillard’s book The System of Objects, much of my first-hand observations into possession have been getting backed up by his insight; most importantly the question – why we hold on to objects.

As I look through the vast array of personal possessions that I will be incorporating into my thesis installation, I can confidently say that I have a better understanding of WHY I am putting these objects into the piece; and how they directly reflect my sense of being. The process of destroying said objects has also been a cathartic experience, and I feel that the contrast between the preservation and deconstruction of my possessions will be a refreshing juxtaposition visually for the viewer. Overall I am quite pleased already prior to the installation being 100% set up; and I am even more excited to start working on future pieces to follow. Till next time.

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One in the Same

It has been a hellacious week to say the least, but it has been one of great insight and growth. On Wednesday I had my first critique of the semester, and the last ‘legit’ group critique before installing for thesis; (the following two critiques will be regarding the installation logistics and post-install.) The critique was quite enjoyable; I was probably the most relaxed that I had ever been for a critique. Due to this, I was able to communicate my work verbally more coherently. As someone who takes medication for anxiety, I am quite pleased with that.

Overall I learned that a majority of my colleagues who participated in my critique were hungry for more insight into ‘myself’ for the installation; aka my personal relationship with the objects, possible object descriptions, my thoughts on the process of destroying my possessions. However, I feel that by injecting myself so heavily into the installation I would diminish what I am actually attempting to communicate. Rather than have the installation be about the processes in which we dictate the value of objects, it would become about me and me only. This was the main reason why I decided to remove any kind of live performance from the piece last semester. It was a nice critique though, and I am glad I was able to show about 1/3 of the installation to my colleagues.

Aside from prepping for this large-scale installation, I have also been doing a lot of planning for post-graduation. Not necessarily regarding jobs per say, but rather a future body of work that I am interested in conducting. Knowing that I will not have a good sized studio to construct my work after graduation, I have been becoming increasingly interested in art that has a short mortality. I see my future undertakings being a continuation of my current work, and will focus on the value of objects and how we dictate them.

Other than that, I don’t have my next critique for three weeks, so I get to spend some time running around gathering resources. March 30th is fast approaching, but at least I am having fun along the way.

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Art Amnesty, Bob & Roberta Smith, MoMA, 2014.

(I have been reading a lot about a project conducted in 2014 by Bob & Roberta Smith called Art AmnestyArtist had the opportunity to throw away their art and swear to never make art again. I found its commentary about art institutions to be quite interesting; especially when regarding how we dictate the monetary value of art.)

The Weather is Beautiful; Full of Energy

Today I found out that my longtime mentor and friend Gordon Lee passed away from cancer at the age of 63. It is difficult for me to form words expressing how deeply saddened I am. I have been his graduate assistant for the last year and a half; assisting five of his classes in total. He has also been my head mentor within the MFA program for equal amounts of time. Though my heart is aching,  I want to take this moment to focus on how much his wisdom and kindness has impacted, not only myself, but also the many students that I have had the pleasure of knowing while under his wing.

I first met Gordon while attending the annual MFA BBQ held at Ric Petry’s house for the incoming MFA students. I had just moved to Columbus from a small farm town in northwest Ohio, so I was very much a little fish in a big pond. While attempting to mingle among the guests of faculty members and students, a man approached me and with a smile upon his face said ‘I need your help with my classes this semester, badly’. My role as a graduate assistant to Gordon Lee had begun.

For the many months to follow I would witness Gordon direct classes as if it was second nature; engaging students with his fun personality and vast knowledge of art. He was always open to any student’s ideas, and pushed them all to reach their full potential. I never saw a sliver of negativity from him; he overflowed with warmth and kindness. As my mentor within the MFA program, Gordon opened my eyes to the possibilities that my artwork had. A firm believer in hard work, he helped to solidify my active work ethic. I wouldn’t be half the artist I am today had it not been for his guidance.

I will never forgot the early morning assistings that I had with him. On days when it would be pouring rain outside, I would walk into the classroom completely drenched and say to him ‘that’s some crummy weather out there.’ to which he would reply ‘the weather is beautiful; full of energy.’ I feel that sums Gordon up perfectly. A man that always looked on the positive side for every situation. I will miss you dearly friend.

Loss Aversion + Endowment Effect

Hello all and welcome back to a brand new semester; full of excitement and anxiety. I have not posted on my blog for probably a couple months, so I thought I would take this time to go over what I am working on and research that I have been digging through.

For those of you who had kept up with my blog posts throughout last summer, you know that I had spent a majority of it constructing sculptures within a storage locker back in my home town. You may also know that when the time came for me to leave my temporary studio at summer’s end, I had to dispose of the five sculptures I had created due to a lack of space back home. Obviously at the time I was a little torn by the thought of having to throw away my work, but I did find a “solution” to the scenario. I ended up taking a small sample from every piece of junk that I had gathered throughout the summer, over 600 samples in total, and cataloging the samples into an organized system using codes.

However, something really stuck out in the back of my mind during this whole process. The surprising result from this procedure was that, once I took a sample from a piece of junk, I did not feel disheartened about throwing away that actual object the sample came from. To me, the sample was essentially taking the place of the object, so I did not feel sad; I still possessed “the object” to some extent. With this reaction being rather confusing to me, I began researching the act of possession within behavioral economics. What I found were two hypothesis that brought to light why I felt the way I did: Loss Aversion and the Endowment Effect.

Loss Aversion refers to a person’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses than to acquiring equivalent gains.  Basically what it means is that when we are faced with a scenario that has both a negative and positive outcome of equal weight, we view the negative outcome with twice as much intensity than the positive. Individuals who are more susceptible to having higher perceptions of Loss Aversion, such as Hoarders, face this pro/con dilemma with every object that they acquire. Those who hoard objects view the process of acquisition as more of a responsibility than anything else. If they do not hold on to these possessions, essentially “saving” the objects from being thrown away, then no one will. What ends up happening is that they view the prospect of losing an object with more intensity than someone who does not hoard; inevitably holding on to the objects without realizing that it is impacting their life in a negative manner. The (pro) is holding on to the object, the (con) is throwing it away. Does this sound familiar to my own dilemma I faced when it came time to throw away my sculptures?

Endowment Effect is the hypothesis that people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them. Think about some of the possessions you own, lets say your phone. If you were given the choice of keeping your phone or receiving someone else’s phone instead, both of which being completely identical make and model of phone, which option would choose? Chances are you would want to keep your own phone because you own it and it is yours. Despite your phone being completely identical to hundreds of thousands of others out there, you view yours with a greater sense of preciousness. This is the Endowment Effect.

Each and every object that we posses is imbued with experiences/potential experiences by us. When faced with the phone scenario, we are not simply thinking about the actual physical object: the phone. Rather, we are also focusing on the experiences we have had with the phone; calls with friends, pictures taken, shit battery, etc. All of these experiences are unique to the individual,  and the value of them far outweigh the physical object itself. Due to this, we would rather hold on to our phone than trade it for an identical copy.

Loss Aversion and the Endowment Effect go hand in hand. They are the main reasons why we sometimes have trouble throwing away our possessions; even if said object is broken or damaged. We fear, not only the loss of the object itself, but the experiences that we tie to it as well. To us, discarding the object is equal to discarding a piece of our self.

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Fragments of my possessions

Emotional Attachment

“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches to your body.”

George Carlin

 

I have been rather recluse this first half of the semester. Chances are if you ventured down to the second floor MFA space you wouldn’t find me. I have been spending a lot of my time working on my thesis installation, particularly the viewer interactive component; which has been requiring a lot of my time typing away on my computer. For those of you who were not present in my previous critique, or are in Wednesday’s seminar group, I will take this time to go over what I have been working on and my plans for my thesis installation.

As many of you know, I am an avid collector of things; particularly collectibles from my childhood and objects that I feel have utility purposes. I have actually stopped dumpster diving for the time being, and have been focusing more on objects that I personally have strong emotional attachment to. Now, what do I mean by emotional attachment?

Emotional attachment is a primary construct when it comes to the act of collecting, hoarding, consuming, and our interactions with one another. It dictates what we buy, who we love, what we keep, and what we throw away. It is a force that can be destructive, such as the development of addictions and obsessions. However, it can also be beneficial, such as the cultivation of empathy and the creation of strong lasting relationships. Through my installation, I want to question my own emotional attachment to objects; particularly the objects that represent my life. Why do I hold on to them? Why can’t I throw them away?

You might be thinking ‘how can an object represent my life?’ Take this analogy into consideration. When we go to a live concert, we are left with a ticket stub; a little piece of paper that records the date, venue, seating location, your name, and the name of the performance. Now, how many of you, when you are handed that ticket stub, hold on to it even when the concert is over? My guess is that a lot of us do. Why do we do this; it’s just a little piece of paper. Actually that piece of paper represents something more. It represents a moment in time where you existed. It represents an experience that you lived through firsthand. The reason why we have difficulty discarding it is because, to some degree, that little ticket stub has now become a fragment of our identity. If we were to lose that piece of paper, then we would not have that visual element for us to say ‘yes, I lived through this experience. Here is the proof.’ This is emotional attachment. This is why we hold on to objects

So what am I doing for my installation? Over the last few weeks, I have been documenting 50 objects that I have strong emotional attachment to. Each object carries with it a unique story, experience, moment in my life; whether from my childhood days, to teenage years, to the present. I am essentially gathering a collection of my life. For my installation, I will be conducting a live performance on the opening day of our thesis exhibition. There, I will be, one by one, destroying all of the 50 objects. The remnants from each object will then be place in their own individual 6″Wx8″H acrylic tube, and placed on a shelf. Each tube will have a QR code affixed to its face. Using their smartphones, viewers will be able to scan the QR codes, which will then direct them to a specific description page for each object. Once viewers have learned more about the connection I have with each object, they will be prompted toward another page where they will be able to take a brief survey regarding THEIR own emotional attachment to the object. During the performance I will also have cameras documenting  the whole experience, with TV monitors projecting the deconstruction of the objects.

Some have voiced their concern on whether this performance will be too strenuous on me emotionally, but I see this piece as a springboard for future work. Using the data collected from the surveys, I will have a better understanding of how emotionally attached viewers become toward objects that, prior to the installation, they had no connection with. Not only that, but I view this whole experience as a way of temporarily freeing myself. Attempting to regain control over my life, by destroying the objects that represent it.

 

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Value Structures

“When I’m trying to decide what to keep, this outdated coupon seems as important as my grandmother’s picture”

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

 

Despite having a second critique in a two week period, I am actually not that disappointed. My work has been evolving at quite a rapid rate; and I am looking forward to discussing my plans. Within my critique this Thursday I will be going over value structures, and their role within the realm of collecting. These structures are the essence of collecting, and I will have some physical examples to explain them. I will also be going over what has failed in the last two weeks, as far as my art, and how it has grown into something that I am very proud of and eager to bring to life. While this blog post is rather short and vague, I would rather not spoil it all beforehand. I know the seminar structure is a little wacky, so if you happen to miss getting into my group for critique but want to know what I am up to, feel free to shoot me a message, email, w/e and I’ll dive into it.

Here’s a picture of my rabbit, his name is Benjamin; enjoy.

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Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

Life is a river of opportunities. If I don’t grab everything interesting, I’ll lose out. Things will pass me by. The stuff I have is like a river. It flows into my house, and I try to keep it from flowing out. I want to stop it long enough to take advantage of it.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

 

So ahead of my critique this Thursday, I thought I would take a moment and go over what I will be discussing. This will be my first PowerPoint critique, which I am not too entirely thrilled about, but I wanted to use this first get together to go over what I have done over my summer break; including research, data that I have collected, and future endeavors for my thesis.

Here is a very brief rundown of what I will be conducting for my thesis, and I will be going more in depth during my critique:

From September 11th 2017, to February 24th 2018, I will be gathering samples of things I come in contact with on a daily basis. These samples will include, but in no way is limited to, food, drink, living areas, vehicles, buildings, objects I find, etc. Each sample collected will be vacuum sealed within a 2″x3″ heat sealing bag, and labeled/documented appropriately. My goal is to collect a minimum of 60 samples every day during the 167 day time period. By the end, I should yield roughly 10,000 samples, possibly a little more depending on the scale of the finalized installation. Right now the final visual representation of the installation is in flux, collecting samples is underway though. Again, I will be going over all the nuts and bolts of the piece during critique; as well as inspiration and data.

Other than that, I hope my vague description has made you curious. I am excited for this installation and it will be a fun next 167 day process.

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Picking up the Pieces

Loneliness is a desire for closeness, for joining up, joining in, joining together, for gathering what has otherwise been sundered, abandoned, broken or left in isolation. Loneliness is a longing for integration, for a sense of feeling whole.”

Olivia Laing

 

As summer quickly winds down to a close, so too does my time within my temporary studio. When I first approached this summer-long project, I knew full well that whatever artwork that I ended up producing would not be able to be kept due to lack of storage space outside of my studio. However, tossing out all of the items that I had acquired over the last three months was simply out of the question. So this posed a unique quandary for me; how can I preserve all of these items?

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I began thinking of the different methods in which items are preserved for the sake of collecting; methods such as vacuum bags, protective cases, and storage boxes. Wanting to implement similar methods of preservation for my more unconventional items, I began taking samples of each and every object that I had acquired; using a pair of sheers to snip off small fragments. I then took these fragments, roughly 1”x1” in scale each, and placed them within individual 2”x3” vacuum sealed bags. Since this act of fragmentation had reduced the items to a miniature sample of their former selves, I developed a special code for each item in order to prevent future confusion. Each code can then be traced to a respective spreadsheet documenting unique aspects that the object originally had. For an example, a small red fragment with the code UP234 tells me that it was a “U” unused, “P” plastic item, and it is the “234” item in that series. When I look up UP234 on the spreadsheet, it indicates that it was a toy fire truck, roughly 3”x5” in scale, and it was red.

Reflecting back on my blog post regarding control, and the destruction of the object in the name of preservation, I realized that what I was trying to accomplish by way of fragmentation was exactly what Philipp Blom had hinted at in his book To Have and To Hold. My desire to preserve was falling in line with the nature of the collector. The objects were falling prey to my will; not the other way around. By way of fragmentation, the objects lose their original identity; their life. No longer was the toy fire truck a toy fire truck, but instead it had become UP234. It, along with hundreds of other items, had become a code; a code created by the collector, i.e. I, in my attempt to preserve my own preconceived memories that I had implanted on them. Fragmentation had killed the objects, yet at the same time preserved them for however long I choose. In the end, this act is all about my need to CONTROL. Now where my desire for control originates from, it is hard to say. Perhaps it is rooted within in my childhood; such as my longing for collecting Pokemon Cards. However, what I can tell you is that I have stumbled upon something of great interest to me, and I am excited to further explore this upon returning to campus.

Loneliness: Filling the Void

Last week I discussed how the act of collecting can come in all shapes and sizes. I briefly contextualized the impact of traumatic experiences, and how these events can trigger the desire to collect objects; primarily in an attempt to come to terms with said traumatic experience. I wanted to touch this week on another aspect that holds significant prominence in why an individual would begin collecting objects: loneliness.

Within the book The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone by Olivia Laing, Laing dives into the feeling of loneliness and its role in how we react to our surroundings.

“When people enter into an experience of loneliness, they trigger what psychologists call hyper-vigilance for social threat, a phenomenon Weiss first postulated back in the 1970s. In this state, which is entered into unknowingly, the individual tends to experience the world in increasingly negative terms, and to both expect and remember instances of rudeness, rejection and abrasion, giving them greater weight and prominence than other, more benign or friendly interactions. This creates, of course, a vicious circle, in which the lonely person grows increasingly more isolated, suspicious and withdrawn. And because the hyper-vigilance hasn’t been consciously perceived, it’s by no means easy to recognize, let alone correct, the bias.”

It is at this moment of hyper-vigilance, this repetitious circle of discontent, where I personally feel the act of collecting can arise, and become a metaphorical pressure release valve for the individual coping with loneliness. Think about moments of our lives where the feeling of loneliness comes to the surface; such as when a loved one passes away, when we move to a new city, when we experience a difficult breakup. Each of these scenarios, aka the subject, carries with it an attempt to reconcile with the discomfort and detachment, aka the predicate. When a pet passes away, we go out and purchase a new one. When we move to a new city, we acquire items that remind us of our previous home. When we experience a difficult breakup, we purchase items in an attempt to glaze over the discomfort of loss, i.e. clothes, food, entertainment.

Loneliness triggers an action, some of which mend the broken pieces, while others further perpetuate a state of being broken. This is why collecting can become so unbelievably addictive when placed within the realm of loneliness. Collecting things creates a temporary high, a thrill, an aversion to the underlying crumbling structure of oneself. When we collect, we feel lifted, for we have acquired something that we previously did not have. This feeling, of course, never sustains for longer than a brief moment, and the crippling hands of loneliness drag us back into the hole. So what do we do? We venture forth for that high once more; all the while we neglect the real issue at hand; loneliness. Whether it is through drugs, stamps, coins, cars, sex, whatever it may be; when one succumbs to loneliness, collecting can sometimes become the drug of choice. An attempt to reach that high again and again. An attempt to fill the void.

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