UNIT 2 Contextual Essay


An investigation into how we project ourselves onto inanimate objects and how collections can form inventories of identity

By Yiting Liu, (13,May, 2019)

This essay begins by exploring my interests in objects. Start by questioning our relationship to objects and how they seem to resonate with personal meaning. Moreover, how does objects as an inanimate thing that can hold our memories and how collections can form our identity. I will look at how Jean Baudrillard discourse the non-functional system of objects and a way to understand how people’s possessions imply a story – and how artists reflect these ideas in their work. To conclude, I will put forth the idea to the way that human try to transport their desires, feelings into a miniature world and try to create objects to freeze time.


“We find it familiar to consider objects as useful or aesthetic, as necessities or vain indulgences but on less families ground when we consider objects as companions to our emotional lives or as provocative to thought” (Turkle, 2011, pg5). With these two ideas, I start to dig into the stories of objects around me and questioning about why people collect things. It can be an actual object, a text, a song, an antique, a photo or a collection within a space. Objects, as the most familiar and unfamiliar thing in our life, how they speak for themselves as an inanimate thing. As written in Daniel Miller’s book “The best way to understand, convey and appreciate our humility is through attention to our fundamental materiality”. (Miller, 2010)


Jean Baudrillard discusses the idea that there is a kind of objects “they appear to run counter to the requirements of functional calculation but answer to other kinds of demands such as witness, memory, nostalgia or escapism.” (Candlin and Guins, 2009) These objects, which we called it antiques, are not functional nor purely decorative but seem to have a double meaning as related to time, symbolism, virtue or restoration. For example, he discusses about ‘authentic’ within objects, some of the objects which occurs in the present as having occurred in a former time. He uses a family portrait to explain this idea and say that “the immemorialisation, in the concrete form of an object, of a former being – a procedure equivalent, in the register of the imagery, to a suppression of time.” (Candlin and Guins, 2009, P.42)  


With more understanding about objects as an antiques, then it is impossible to not to draw some attention to “Collecting”. Collection or Archive has always been a really important role in the art world, by seeing those collection can motivate someone’s inspiration. Here is the words how Jean Baudrillard depicts collecting, “The passionate pursuit of possession finds fulfillment and the everyday prose of objects is trandformed into poetry, into a triumphant unconscious discourse.” (Candlin and Guins, 2009, P.49) Perhaps, the habit of collecting things can be traced back to our childhood, “mostly between the age of seven and twelve, during the latency period between early childhood and puberty. The urge to collect tends to wane with the onset of puberty.” (Candlin and Guins, 2009, P.49)   


If some of the objects (antiques) do play a part in our modern life, how to understand the deeper connection with their owners or how to identify groups of object into a form of personality? Daniel Miller, who wrote a book called The Comfort of Things (Miller, D, 2008), which is based on a research selected from one hundred individuals and household studied into thirty stories. Each of chapter are using a narrative way to portrait a man or woman and how these people express themselves through their possessions. It turns out “usually the closer our relationship with objects, the closer our relationships are with people.” (Miller, D, 2008, P.1) With the first two chapter called Empty and Full, it depicts fully different type of space that hold totally different character by narrative their possessions. By reading this book, I start to realize that how intimacy is our living space and how people might react when others try to ask about their belongings as it can reveal the stories and memories or personalities.


Here are some examples of artist that use groups of objects to transfer their memory and personal experience. Tracy Emin, her works always put her memory and experience into narrative form. Each of her works is made from varies memory. For example, My Bed (Fig, 1), an unmade bed with bottles, knickers, condoms, etc. The artist portrait her life in forms that are so actual and familiar and it seen as an extreme artistic self-reference. This piece of work is autobiographical and even make the viewers haunted by the conspiracy of absent body.


Fig. 1 - Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998, Tate, London