When the thing stops being a Thing

2 November 2010

Over a week ago I retrieved my Thing from the exhibition. It was a much more emotional experience than expected. As I looked around waiting for my Thing to be found and returned, I looked around at the walls of other people’s mementos, and felt oddly sad that I was removing it from its new home. I realized how much this exhibition has really affected the way I looked at an object that I just grabbed out of my handbag. I really had re-contextualized it, and it felt almost wrong to put my keychain back on my housekeys and chucking it into my handbag again.

After it was returned to me, I looked at it in my hand. It looked grubby, same as it always has, but now the image of it professionally photographed and measured against a white background was stuck in my head. It seemed like two different objects, one that now existed virtually in Keith Wilson’s Things calendar online, and the one that was sitting in my hand waiting to be given its original purpose back again.

I walked around one more time, remembering each item and description I had scanned into the Flickr database. I was familiar with almost every item by then, and so each object lay there projecting its life at me. I was comforted when I reminded myself that I can still see the exhibition online, even though it wasn’t quite the same as immersing myself in a room full of other people’s histories and emotions. My thing was a part of this room, and as an extension of me, I felt like I was connected with everyone who had participated as well. I felt like I was losing something, even though I had in my hand the only thing I came for.

Things forced us to put an object on a pedestal: removing it from its everyday purpose and giving it a week to just Be Itself. It became part of something bigger, a whole. Knowing that I was removing it from this enormous, friendly community of objects felt almost wrong, like it was not my place to take it away. However, as I felt the familiar comfort of my keychain in my handbag, I realised that in the end the Thing was part of me as well.