Dissertation reflection

The title of my dissertation is “Forming and Maintaining of Emotional Bonds between Humans through Objects”, and as such my research has been largely based around two points; the emotionally engaging relationships we form with people, and the emotionally engaging relationships we form with objects. As my thesis states, these emotionally engaging relationships with objects come from the fact that objects themselves are an extension, reflection, and embodiment of humans, and it is our innate recognition of this that drives us to respond to objects and regard them in many of the same ways that we do with other people.

Objects carry meanings and messages, imbued in them in their creation by the will of the maker, either as an overt expression of certain values purposefully manifested in the form or design, or an unconscious reflection of both personal and cultural values which form the maker’s life experience. However objects have the capacity to hold multiple meanings and values, and while they may remain fixed and constrained in their form, their own personal narrative and sets of meanings is ever changing and evolving, acting as a palimpsest on which new layers can be added and overwritten but never erased. These values are not only formed in the making of the object, but through any and all interaction and ownership, with those who interact with an object placing upon it values and interpretations of their own. This is especially clear in the case of sentimental value, with the owner forming a positive emotional attachment to an object not due to its functional or monetary value, but through a bond of shared experience through use or the object being witness to significant events. The object is then seen by the owner as an extension or representation of the self, despite having had no input into its creation the sheer act of experiencing an object within our own lives imparts our presence upon it.

This ability for the object to become autonomous, not in a physical sense but a phenomenological one – to carry a set of independent and changing values which it accrues through its own experience, that can evolve and develop over time – is why the nature of the object is so significant to us as humans. Upon having embodied ourselves in the object, it then also exists separate from ourselves, allowing us to observe and reflect upon ourselves objectively and contextually, from which we can then define and therefore refine our sense of self and our understandings and values.

The object can become not just an embodiment of our own self, but of other people also. Just as we can embody ourselves into the object, we may also interact with objects in which others have imprinted a sense of their own self onto it and understand it as such. We are able to analyse and ‘read’ the objects of others to greater understand and evaluate that person and their values, and understand that the object not only part of their personal narrative but that person is in turn part of the object’s narrative. Through our own interaction with these objects then, we can in turn feel as if we are in some aspect interacting and engaging with the person themselves, strengthening and developing our bond with them and bringing an aspect of their narrative into our own lives. Therefore, even if the person in question is absent or lost, we are able to continue our relationship with them in a new and evolving way through the use of objects connecting us to the people and events we project upon them.

Objects then, allow us to reconnect and engage with events, experiences, emotions, and people independently and transcending both time and space, in a dimension which exists purely within our own minds. This is then is facilitated by the object, acting as a platform or a fulcrum for this mind-space to be accessed. In the same sense that objects can allow us to reflect upon ourselves, we can also then reflect upon these events, experiences, emotions and people which we are connected to through objects. The object, or series of objects can hold all of these different aspects, bonds and relationships both independently, yet also allow us to view them coherently as a whole. They may be viewed contextually, in the same manner or setting in which they were first formed, or with the ever changing context of the viewer’s present and future experiences.

It is these qualities of the object which I am attempting to draw upon in my own practice. My main outcome is to create a series of bronze medals, which both embody and form a connection to my experiences of the past, throughout various stages of my life. Medals themselves are objects historically made to commemorate a significant event, a physical memorial which serves as both a reminder and a link to the owner, as well as also an expression and recognition to others of this experience.

Not only are the medals themselves objects which embody values and experiences, but the imagery which I use on the surface of the medals themselves is also based around my relationships with objects in relation to the significance and meaning they have in my life. In this case, I am exploring the use of keys as imagery. Keys in themselves are objects which are laden with significance, meaning and experience. They are fundamentally tied to place, and our experience of that place, and through their use creating a direct tie between our physical interaction with them as objects and our emotional engagement of the place. The frequency of their use, the positioning of the key on a keyring, and the changing dynamic of keys which we carry with us as we move through different period of our lives with different places available to us, all reflect our relationships with the places and people around us.

keys in stages

They are objects which we carry with us almost constantly, possibly more so than any other object perhaps excluding mobile phones, and which we fundamentally understand have value – people often end up with drawers of unused or miscellaneous keys as they feel they are too valuable to simply be discarded. They are able to be read and interpreted by others, some clearly house keys, others being more decorative and therefore perhaps more sentimental, some being more childish in design, and so are able to be representational not only for me of my own experience and understanding, but allow others the ability to interpret and investigate these values.

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This series of medals then will serve to act as an expression of my own experiences, both of my experiences during these different periods of my life, but also of my current experience and perception at the time of their creation. However, they are not fixed in their meaning; they will serve to act as anchor points to my experiences, relationships and emotions of both the past and the current, in a developing and contextually driven setting. Their original meanings and values remain fixed, but yet also allow for new layers of understanding and perception to be placed atop or alongside them, making the objects increasingly more complex and meaningful throughout my life. In this sense, while they may only account for a small portion in my life from childhood to present in their physical narrative, their personal and phenomenological narrative is one which will extend, develop, and represent my entire life in tandem with my own experience. These objects are therefore a distillation and tangible embodiment of all the research focused upon in my dissertation, with them being a product of my own conception and production, an expression of all my relationships and experiences, and an embodiment and memorial of both my own sense of self and my perception of these events which I can continue to engage with, and others may then engage with in my absence.

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