MEMORIAL TO A FICTIONAL LIFE

A collection of the items found in the process of undertaking The Future Histories Project.

Memorial to a Fictional Life

By Leonie Leivenzon

Edited by Chelsea Hopper

 

It has been said that we all have a story to tell. I wonder, though, to what degree we are the authors of our stories. As our fingers hold the pen or tap on the keyboard, we imagine that we are writing our own narratives and in control of the tales that evolve. We know our stories are filled with a plethora of characters but see them as other active human subjects just like ourselves. Everything else exists as a passive player in our stories and outside our anthropocentric understanding.

 

Memorial to Fictional Life seeks to question the locus of control we have over these stories. I hope to open up the possibility that inanimate and lifeless objects can contribute to and influence our narratives. I imagine the 31 framed found objects on display acting as guides, offering the viewer multiple narrative possibilities rather than leading down a singular path to a singular story. In displaying the objects framed and hung on the wall, I too offer snippets of information in the form of a lolly wrapper or a pressed flower nudging the viewer this way or that way, indulging myself with a belief that I retain an element of influence after my work has left the studio. The title Memorial to Fictional Life is one such nudge as it hints at the personification of the inanimate objects hanging on the wall, suggesting that they represent a life, albeit a fictitious one.

 

The objects of Memorial to Fictional Life also gently prompt us to respond to the work. Depending on your personal experiences and memories, certain qualities of the objects may stand out while others fade into the background. Particular features may pique your interest, resonating within the context of your own personal history. You might look at the objects on display and be reminded of experiences from your own life: your wedding anniversary, your birthday or that concert you went to. Or perhaps what interests you are the objects that you don’t connect with, the ones that are so different from your personal life circumstances that they catch your attention. Alternatively, it may simply be that you are attracted to certain colours or shapes. As we inspect the objects, framed and hung on the wall, we act as if the stories generated emerge from within us and from our responses to details that the objects offer. 

 

I wish now, however, to tip the scales of narrative control in my favour by revealing to you something of the objects’ past. The process of creating Memorial to Fictional Life involved visiting multiple op shops and combing through hundreds of second-hand books, searching for ones that contained items unwittingly discarded inside by their donors. To date I have unearthed 438 makeshift bookmarks forgotten inside 413 books. The items I found varied from photos, thank you notes and bank statements to honeymoon postcards, recipes, boarding passes and pressed flowers; they are objects that represent every stage of life from conception to death. As I keenly sifted through book after book, shelf after shelf, I cycled through a state of anticipation followed by the thrill of discovery.

 

Lured by a seductive power of ownership that was both exciting and unsettling, I believed that I controlled the things I had found and the secrets they held. Purchasing the books and the items buried within, I felt potency in the power bestowed upon me by the virtue of possession. I meticulously catalogued the books and the items in a vain attempt to command them. Spending day after day rifling through them, I focused on what I believed these objects represented in my own past and personal experiences. This focus influenced the stories that I imagined these objects told. I assumed that it was my history and personality guiding me towards choosing, out of the hundreds I had collected, these particular 31 objects for Memorial to Fictional Life. Yet as this process of gathering, collecting and cataloguing teetered between meditation and addiction, I began to question where the power of storytelling actually lay.

 

We live immersed in a world of objects. We make demands of them, forcing them into submission. We inflate their value and impose our beliefs, memories and emotions onto them. We then discard objects once we determine that their value has dwindled. Our tendency towards anthropocentrism leads us to assume that the locus of control sits within us. We are the animated, lively human subject, and the rest of the world exists as a collection of passive entities which are under our control.[1] This anthropomorphism interprets subject and object as standing at opposite ends of the hierarchy of power, with the human subject at the very top.

 

The objects of Memorial to Fictional Life were chosen by me for the power they possess to embody a different stage of life, each triggering in me a spark of recognition from which a story could be generated. The objects themselves contain agency and potency.Yet rather than viewing the objects of Memorial to Fictional Life as passive mirrors that simply reflect back at us, perhaps a portion of the meaning we perceive originates from the objects themselves. We can see many ways in which objects impose their wills upon us. A chair requires us to sit on it in a certain way just as a cup requires us to hold it in a particular way.[2] Instead of meaning flowing unilaterally from within us, the objects of Memorial to Fictional Life also act, imposing their intangible realities upon us. They subtly require something, influencing how they are experienced. The act of placing the various found objects in second-hand photo frames, for example, changes how they are interpreted. The frames are asking you to see the objects within them from a different perspective, perhaps one which conveys a greater sense of personal value.

 

Each object, be it photo, shopping list, flyer or drawing, holds within it an inner core of its own existence. We directly access only some of the information these objects contain. At the same time these known unknowns hidden within objects affect us, prompting a response that is so intricately intertwined with our own stories that it is impossible to tell where they end, and the object begins. The power that the objects possess lies in their ability to only partially reveal themselves. They enact change while never quite fully exhausting their possibilities.[3] Things quietly call to us, hinting at their inner existence and prompting certain thoughts and memories to bubble to the surface. 

 

Art objects, in particular, are not easy to categorise into roles of either governor or governed. They usually lack a pure functionality, and it is unclear whose expectations they are trying to fulfil. They resist full knowledge by standing firmly as their own being even as they are able to influence the things around them. The art object is never equivalent to what you think you know about it. It is this meaning that hides in these cracks that is the allure of art.[4]

 

Positioning the object as a performer in the hierarchy of power imbalance forces me to relinquish yet another dimension of my already limited control and I am humbled amid this swarm of unknowable and uncontrollable factors influencing how my work is received. I wonder if it is possible for the human subject to gain an appreciation and recognition for the existence of objects which doesn’t involve the imposition of a hierarchical power imbalance in assumptions of knowledge: a space in which new meanings are produced through the interactions between objects and other objects as well as between objects and subjects.

 

We can, perhaps, look at Memorial to Fictional Life as an assemblage rather than through the dualistic lens of subject and object, artwork and viewer. You, the viewer of the exhibition, exist as a distinct entity in conjunction with the objects, influencing the assemblage, while not detracting from the power of other objects to influence the assemblage as well. Inanimate objects become active subjects, embodying an ability to enact upon other things within the assemblage. Memorial to Fictional Life becomes, therefore, an alliance between you and the objects.[5] This would allow the agency of Memorial to Fictional Life to be distributed more equally amongst all the things that comprise the assemblage that is the artwork—you, me, the objects, the gallery rather than solely emanating from an active human subject viewing inert objects.[6]

 

Therefore, you become simultaneously subject and object. You do not simply activate the passive objects as a traditional correlation, but rather the object and viewer merge and create a new object that is art.[7] You become an essential element which combines with other equally active elements to create the artwork. The human subject is not the sole source of power as all components, both human and non-human, play an active role. 

 

This does not deny our natural human tendency towards anthropocentrism. Instead, it attempts to imagine the possibility of the existence of and interaction between objects, both animate and inanimate, occurring beyond human experience. It acknowledges the capacity of the items in Memorial to Fictional Life to act upon us, generating a share of our responses and participating actively in the construction of meaning and understanding. It does not imply an equality of power but an equality of existence. 

 

We can retain our position at the top of the hierarchy while also acknowledging that we are perhaps, only the tip of the iceberg and that what exists below the surface supports and keeps us afloat rather than humanity being the driving force which pushes everything else down.

 

It has been said that knowledge is power. So, as I open up the possibility of unknown unknowns, I hope to nudge understanding along a path towards known unknowns. I do not do so in an effort to become more powerful but to question the source of power. I relinquish a small slice of control over my stories, with an understanding that I never had full control in the first place. I ask you to look at the objects of Memorial to Fictional Life through this lens and to open yourself up to the freedom and responsibility that comes with the realisation that your story is not fully your own 

 

[1] Dorothee Richter, "(NON-)THINGS or Why Nostalgia for the Thing is Always Reactionary." On Curating, no. 45, Curating the Digital (April 2020), accessed June 17, 2020, https://www.on-curating.org/issue-45-reader/non-things-or-why-nostalgia-for-the-thing-is-always-reactionary.html#.XvP5qi2r2uU.

[2] Timothy Morton and Olafur Eliasson “Telephone Relay,” in Olafur Eliasson: Riverbed (Esbjerg, Denmark: Rosendahls, 2014), 52–53.

[3] Graham Harman, Art + Objects, (Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2019), 19.

[4] Harman, 67.

[5] Jane Bennett, "Encounters with an Art-Thing," Salvage Art Institute. January 16, 2014, accessed May 28, 2020, http://salvageartinstitute.org/janebennett_encounterswiththesartthing.pdf.

[6] Egill Sæbjörnsson, "Ten Questions to Jane Bennett," Rocks, Stones and Dust, 2012, accessed 28 May, 2020, http://rocksstonesdust.com/essays/10_Questions.pdf.

[7] Harman, Object-oriented Ontology, 83