Thing Theory (2016-2019)
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A social comment on the history of things; collecting commentary through collective memory.
Reducing objects to their materiality, they are fundamentally ‘things’. There are many given names for the items that exist around us: artefact, specimen, object, thing, good, or commodity. As a common word, thing non-specifically applies to all, evoking the liminal everyday; ‘concrete yet ambiguous’. It is when an object malfunctions that we truly realise its thingness.
All things, including items of the natural world, can be catagorised as social constructs. As humans we taxonomise these, webbing human-object relationships. They hold a multiplicity of roles in our society with classifications constantly subject to change. Objects, like organisms, grow. It is the involvement of humans that fluctuates in the process. Our involvement in the design of object pathways in turn defines us through our formation of ideas that have been made cultural. There is a distinction between an object’s substance (the materials used to create it) and its projection through human design. These materialist and constructivist debates in approach are contended in object authenticity. With museum objects, there is emphasis on form; the object is imbued with cultural significance and its material properties ignored.
Whilst we tend to perceive communicative qualities in objects, they remain implicitly mute. In certain situations, things exist as social beings or agents; acting like people or as an extension of the body, such as a car and its owner, or a child and their toy. These things are reflective of their ‘owner’s personhood’ and behave as agents when human social interactions bring about this context. Objects are not dependent on humans; existing irrelevant of human perception. Defined by their affects they are never directly accessible to humans. They have the capacity to bear an imperative force over us, contesting and relating to other inanimate objects. The object begins as an agent holding a multiplicity of ‘adumbrations’ or qualities that lie deeper than its surface.
Things have social lives in which their past, present and future can be defined, establishing a biographical approach. An object’s history can also be redefined culturally. Whilst an object may accumulate a wider biography relating to ‘class or type’, it may also hold a more specific biography dependant on its use, context and owner.