Atlas of Everyday Objects—In the Age of Global Social Isolation

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Project Brief

Many of us across the globe have been asked to stay in our homes. The Observational Practices Lab Parsons New York—co-directed by Selena Kimball and Pascal Glissmann—invites your participation in a global observation to archive our collective isolation: Look around. Which objects have taken on new meaning since the start of your isolation? Take pictures of 9 objects and create a 3×3 grid of these. Post this grid on social media using #objectsofmyisolation and include this text. Add additional hashtags if you want.

atlasofeverydayobjects.org

Learning Objectives

Atlas of Everyday Objects—In the Age of Global Social Isolation began as a way to reconnect with our graduate students after transitioning our teaching online in the University-wide Transdisciplinary New School course (UTNS) Practices of Observation taught out of the Observational Practices Lab at Parsons. This course aims to provoke dialogue about practices of observation, and invent new ways of looking across disciplines. Learning Objectives include (2 out of 7):

  • Understand Observation as a crucial practice in creative and analytical processes and demonstrate the ability to apply selected methodologies to their work.
  • Self-observation: Cultivating strategies to strengthen one’s ongoing practice by observing, recording and reflecting on one’s learning trajectory; articulating how this maps onto  their values and priorities; ultimately fostering adaptability to ever-changing circumstances and settings as a lifelong learner.

Deliverables

For this exercise, students submit a grid of 9 objects. This is not graded.

For this class, students submit two projects:

  1. Students conduct an observation of an everyday object and record their method(s). They use these records as the basis to develop Observation Scores — a set of simple instructions for peers to enact with whatever everyday object is a hand.
  2. Students apply diverse practices of observation to a single “everyday object” over several weeks to see it anew and understand it from a range of diverse disciplinary and cultural perspectives. They compile all records of these observations in a visual archive / atlas.

Readings/Resources

Crary, Jonathan. (1990). Modernity and the Problem of the Observer. In Techniques of the Observer (pp. 1-24). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Friedman, K., Sawchyn, L., & Smith, O. (2002). The Fluxus performance workbook. Performance Research.

Highmore, B. (2011). Familiar Things. In Ordinary Lives, Studies in the Everyday (Pages 58-86). New York, NY: Routledge

Reflections

We expanded this experimental exercise into an open call on social media after enacting it in class with our students. This reflection—and the image examples—are based on the global submissions we received:

The nine objects when seen together make an idiosyncratic portrait through things, a brief snapshot of an individual in a specific place and at this time of pandemic. We see large bags of flour, and when all-purpose flour sells out at the grocery store as it did in Liverpool, England a huge bag of Chapati flour. A bird feeder out the window, a surprising number of newly-planted seedlings and plants, a mug of tea, cats and siblings, a solitary wooden chair.

These grids, when seen alongside one another, also point to the recurrence of certain items that are taking on new collective meaning as a result of the virus that they never had before: toilet paper, soap, door knobs, handkerchiefs, gloves, and masks, cleaning detergent and the laptop computer. We will not know how the pandemic will change us but we know we will be changed—and we hope this collection of everyday objects will provide a record of the perceptual shift in the everyday environment at the moment it is occurring.

We are thinking of the collective grouping of these grids of photographs of objects as an atlas. This "Atlas of Everyday Objects — In the Age of Global Social Isolation" itself will become the object of inquiry. How can photographic grids of material culture become an artifact itself? What will future researchers see in them, see about our situation through them? Will our at-home isolation actually shape a new kind of collective memory? How will future reckoning with this pandemic be inscribed in the everyday objects that surround us?

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