That thing over there on the table/pedestal/ground/windowsill/altar/wall means something. What exactly, we’re not sure, but we feel like we should keep trying to understand. Our native impulse is to put words to it, to define its purpose and its place. But to truly possess a thing through your knowledge is impossible—its meaning is slippery, subjective, debatable, transmutable. It is better to resist that urge and just keep listening or, at the very least, just let the thing do its thing without getting too much in the way. In fact, it implores us to do so. That is to say, that thing over there has a voice.
A great flattening of the world is taking place as we force three dimensions into a virtual space. In a recent discussion with the artist Morgan Ritter, she posited that this flattening is a way to make things legible, to lock down their meanings. But in this digital arena, matter is replaced with binary code and our constant trolling for understanding is met only with information—heaps of it, all at once, some satiating, but most of it only half right and fleeting. We cannot flatten things into submission.
Even as our lives move increasingly online, we’re still obsessed with objects. Television, that great barometer of public desire (and a mysterious, glowing thing itself) is littered with shows that idolize and investigate things: Antiques Road Show, Pawn Star, Storage Wars, The History of the World in 100 Objects… and the list goes on. Hoarders is one of the finest examples; here, the psychic weight of objects is interpreted as a crushing mass taking over people’s homes. The clutter of things—whether made up of shells, notes, antique vases, rotting cabbage, or a cat corpse—defines the keeper. This sensitivity to materiality can be seen as a disorder triggered by trauma or loss, or it can be seen as an extra-perceptual ability to better understand the accumulative language of stuff. In a recent lecture at the Vera List Center at the New School, political theorist Jane Bennett—who calls things “vibrant matter”—explains the hoarding tendency thusly:
“Perhaps they could be said to be artistic, the hoarders, in their exquisite sensitivity to the somatic effectivity of objects. Hoarders participate in the found art assemblages that they live with by conjoining their sensuous, excitable bodies with it, which is why they cannot bear to part with any object of the hoard. Let’s at least consider the possibility that the person who hoards and the artist who creates share a certain something of a perceptual comportment—one unusually aware of or susceptible to the enchantment power of things. Hoarders and artists hear more of the aesthetic call of things to conjoin with them, play with them, respond to them.”
Perhaps, when seen from another angle, the hoarder is more attuned to the magic life of the inanimate—replace “hoarder” with “artist” and we’re certainly familiar with hearing people talk about objects as extensions of themselves. Artists, in this sense, work to eliminate the negative space or potential void between us and “it.” Their practice preserves sympathy or, perhaps more accurately, empathy for the physical object. Outside of the digital no-space, they still fashion things by hand from materials pulled directly from the earth, the original object. They return us to the core. To begin to understand things, we need to be as still as they are, to slow down time, to stand like sculptures in a room, to create a positive space, an exchange.
End Things is a series of artist statements and it is a collection of objects. Some might call it an exhibition. I will leave it to the philosophers (Heidegger, Thingness!; Riegel, The Crystaline! The Moving!; Spinoza, The Speed of Time!) to put sticky words to abstract concepts. And I will ask the artists to make things, or make things happen: Ritter (Defiant clay!), Cornaro (Diffusion of meaning!), Cecchetti (Body and book as sculpture!), Vogt (Ambiguous ritual!), Meza (Sonic space!), and Van Brummelen & De Haan (Reanimation!).
End Things is more of a question than a rallying call. It is a play on the eschatological preoccupation that surrounds 2012. As we head towards the predicted “end of all things,” perhaps the world will not end with a cataclysmic reckoning or a fireball from outer space, but rather when we no longer view the world as a round floating object and instead a flat space that we scroll over until we reach the edge. I ask us to become occasional animists and to believe that each thing has something to tell, maybe even something that could save us all.
-Kristan Kennedy, Visual Art Curator