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The Everyday Life of Objects


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THE EVERYDAY LIFE OF OBJECTS explores the persistence of material culture in the electronic age and highlights the relationship between objects and meaning, through the construction of a pair of sites, one physical and one virtual. Both the physical and the virtual site offer spectators opportunities to move through a matrix of familiar objects, some precious, some trivial, and to reflect on the possessions in their own lives.

Conceptually, the two sites taken together will foreground timely questions about information technologies and embodied meaning. The physical installation of THE EVERYDAY LIFE OF OBJECTS was a 1500 square foot installation--an irregularly gridded floor-to-ceiling maze which resembles urban architecture, dense vertically as well as horizontally, with an aesthetic sensibility somewhere between a thrift store and a museum. (In trying to picture this installation, you might think of Kurt Schwitter's Merzbau, the 1923 reliquary construction that occupied two floors of his house in Hanover. You might also picture the House on the Rock). Each and every object, and there were hundreds of them, was three-dimensionally framed using recycled materials, offset but still accessible. The collection of objects was diverse: window frames and spray paint cans, stacks of magazines and piles of makeup, high heels and hammers, toilets and telephones, and souvenirs and cabinets and Barbie dolls. The piece was crammed full of objects, what in Yiddish are called tchotchkies, and in the art world are called documentation, and in natural history museums called artifacts, and in department stores are called inventory , and in the construction industry known as salvage, in the law, evidence and in travel, souvenirs. Visitors to the site were invited to select objects which would be theirs at the end of the run of the show, which moved the experience of the show, for many, into a liminal zone between seeing art and shopping.

The electronic version of THE EVERYDAY LIFE OF OBJECTS is a virtual maze. Just as it was possible in the installation to go to a place and touch an object, so in the web site it is be possible to navigate "three-dimensionally" to a "place" and "touch" an icon of the same object. Lifting an object or clicking on an icon triggers a "life history" of an object, though not necessarily that particular object. These sound bites, gathered through a series of interviews with people who have and keep things, about what they acquire and why, includes the testimony of not only collectors but also examples more quotidian practices of accumulation, functional as well as sentimental, absent minded accrual alongside self-conscious selection. For example, the project includes "yuppies" whose instinct to acquire is at odds with a contemporary "bourgeois" minimalist aesthetic as well as surviving relatives and domestic partners, who have to make choices to keep or dispose of the possessions of the deceased.


Constructed by Stan Shellabarger with help from Aby Algueseva, Sherry Bergeron, Tom Bleigh, Mark-Allen Harmon, Susan Schuyler-hicks, Jessica Fenlon, lora Jost, Nicole Nichtman, Miranda Patau, Debra Proctor, Lavel Tyler, Michael Velliquette, Chris Wildrick

Joe Connelly

Michael Peterson

Glenn Austin, Susan Bernstein, Ksenija Bilbija, Rosemary Bodolay, Arthur Durkee, Jeffers Egan, Jim Escalante, Dan Fuller, Sarah Hole, Maureen Janson, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Danny Kleinman, Li Chiao Ping, Toma Longinovic, Grazia Menechella, Dutes Miller, Nick Mirzoeff, Dan Osmundson, Justin Alexander Planasch, Doug Rosenberg, Patrick Rumble, Andrew Sihler, Norm Stockwell, Kathleen Wilson, Phillip Zarrilli

University of Wisconsin faculty development awards program in the creative arts, University of Wisconsin graduate school research committee, Laurie Beth Clark, Sandra Clark, the Madison Citiarts commission with additional funds provided by the Wisconsin Arts board

Madison Enterprise Center, University of Wisconsin Art Department, University of Wisconsin DoIt New Media Lab, WORT



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