The Life of Inanimate Objects

Objects populate our world as much as we do: they become the link between an intelligible idea and the physical world, encapsulating an ideology, a belief or a symbol of the past. Whether it is a painting hanging on our living room’s wall, an old scarf thick with memory, a stone collected on an island distant in time, these objects carry a subjective meaning and speak to us in different ways. When we walk through a city for instance, a gateway or an automatic door can become a symbol of authority, making us feel uneasy or unwelcome. A fragrant loaf of bread can transport us to our childhood with only a breath of air. A bottle of perfume we may not be brave enough to finish may be our last grasp of a human being, or the colour of an old jumper might remind us of our political sentiments while it holds us within its embrace.

The world we live through is made of the conjunction of a physical, external landscape and an inner, psychological reality that often becomes imprisoned in the objects that surround us. Just like the habit of lighting a pipe may connect us to a lost person, the pipe itself becomes the instrument that enables us to surpass the limitations of time and space; it becomes the bridge between the lost realm of memory and our embodied reality, connecting us to the earth in a spiritual manner.

The objects that surround us become a further dimension we add to our existence: they capture life itself and remind us of it every time we stumble upon them, surpassing our contingent circumstances. We are surrounded by a mythology of materialised stories, a family of objects that remind us where we come from or symbolise what we wish to become. They become an extension of the body that is still able to contain part of our soul. In physical matter we channel our hopes, the echoes of our past, the untouchable things we wish to wrap our hands around and hold on to.

A great example of this veneration of physical objects and their hidden meanings is held in Zagreb, Croatia, in the Museum of Broken Relationships, a collection of espresso machines, hairdryers, postcards, gingerbread cookies and even cut-off dreadlocks that people decided to donate to with their love story attached. The most ordinary objects become the centrepieces of a museum as the symbolic possessions of love, the memento of a heartbreak and the treasure of loss.

As well as the meaning we give to them, objects also contribute to forging our thoughts and beliefs and, consequently, our morality. We learn to engage with the world through the objects of our land and of our family life; they can represent our belonging and our identity, and just like language they help us develop and deliver our thoughts. As such, they also encapsulate a great political power: the objects we choose to live amongst, are statements of a set of values and principles we decide to align ourselves with. For instance, if we decide to clothe ourselves in ethically sourced materials rather than unsustainable ones, we are politically choosing to express our values through the objects that better emanate this message: linen then becomes ‘greener’ than viscose. If we decide to rely on the artistry of a cobbler or repair our broken trousers rather than turn them into waste, this becomes a revolutionary act. Therefore, from an aesthetical question it inevitably becomes ethical: our objects become a physical reflection of our meta-physical intentions. They help represent and reflect our beliefs and values, as they are both subject to observation and choice. 

For this reason, objects should not be allowed to live a life of their own but we must remind ourselves that they should always be servants to our reason. The materiality of an old notebook, a silver ring, ora new pair of bootscan create a spiritual connection with the world because of the reminiscence, the hopes or the intentions we pour into their empty bodies. When we learn to appreciate the stories hidden behind the things we touch, and the fact that everything is someone’s work, we can emanate gratitude and reflect it into the world we share with these objects. We must always remember that we are the authors of their souls.

[Erin Rizzato Devlin, @erindrv, @erindvr, she/ her]

[Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska]

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