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.
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.
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.
In reading this book I am responding to the question of can the human exist as an object, outside the physical being.
I have found in this book that the term “object relations” in regards to psychology and psychoanalysis does not in fact refer to objects as we would think about them in the everyday language such as chairs, pens, televisions etc. but rather the focus and subject of a person’s internal perception or desires. This can, I believe, still include physical objects, but the book focuses almost exclusively on the relations between babies and children and “objects” in the outside world, the outside world being anything which exists outside the child’s own body and internal perceptions. These relationships and the dynamics between them, positive and gratifying or destructive and unpleasant, are according to psychoanalytic theory what then forms a child’s personality and establishes the mechanisms they use in order to coordinate future obstacles in adulthood.
While it does not directly relate to the focus of my dissertation, in how humans can establish and reinforce relationships through objects (objects in the literal sense of cups, clothes, gifts etc) it has given me an interesting insight into the idea of humans themselves being seen and treated as objects foreign from ourselves and imbued with meaning and significance which we carry within our own minds.
As with almost all elements of psychoanalytics, the origins of object relations can be traced back to the work or Sigmund Freud. One of Freud’s earliest cases was the treatment of Anna O, whose treatment by a fellow psychologist Josef Breuer after she developed the belief that Breuer was acting inappropriately and making sexual advances towards her. This lead Freud to the theory of transference, in that the perception of an object of focus (in this case Breuer) was not necessarily accurate or corresponded to the actual behaviour of those that object, and that they instead act as a backdrop on which a person (in this case Anna O) can project their internal “psychic representation” onto. This psychic representation of a person is always carried around internally and is subject to many influences which are both conscious and unconscious, as well as then inherently influencing the interaction with the “real” person who has become the object in question, and their perception of the interaction. The book uses the example of a man who has been struggling with anxieties about having wasted years of his life, and whose niece and boyfriend are coming to visit him over the holidays. He spends much of his time preparing for their visit by fastidiously cleaning the house, in anticipation of their critical and punishing attitude towards his home life, feeling shameful about his living conditions and how they will be observed. However, in reality his niece and partner were far from interested in criticising the cleanliness of his home and in fact spent much of their time lazing around the house or staying in bed. This is then met by the uncle with scorn and judgement of his own towards the guests, a direct mirror of the previously imagined scorn that the visitors would show to him.
This relates back to my research in the idea that a relationship between people can exist independently of any interaction with that person, and instead (to borrow a term used by the book) via a psychic representation of that person which is then focused or displaced onto an object. While two people may therefore be sharing in a “psychic relationship” through an object, that is not to say that they are sharing the same perception, and in fact each person’s interpretation and perception of the object and it’s significance may be completely different with very little overlay, other than that it refers to their relationship with the other person.
Frustratingly, the book poses itself many questions which as far as I can tell has failed to answer (I cannot say this conclusively without a more thorough reading of the book in it’s entirety, but I could not find the answers forthcoming).
“How do the characteristics of internal objects relate to those of “real” people, past and present? Is the internal object a representation of the individuals perception of a total relationship with another person or of specific aspects and characteristics of the other? What are the circumstances in which such images become internalized, and which is the mechanism by which they are established as part of the individual’s inner world? What is the connection between these internal representations and subsequent relations with real others in the external world? How do internal objects function within mental life? Are there different types of internal objects? Do different circumstances and mechanisms of internalization lead to different kinds of internal objects?”
These are all questions that I would very much like answers to, and I feel are relevant to my research. However it seems to me that the answers get lost in speculation and comparison between various researchers and studies, whose different approaches all seem to be focused upon child development and specifically the development of sexual drives within a child, as in following on from Freud’s work.
Later in the book while investigating the work of Heinz Kohurt, it links the development of object relations in a child back to the formations as an adult patient. He expresses the theory that an infant views parental figures and other close relationships in early life as being “selfobjects”, as of yet unable to distinguish them from it’s own being and using the selfobject’s experiences and emotions as a basis of its own. Kohurt states that it is through the selfobjects mirroring of the child, or alternatively the child idealising the selfobject it allows the child to create an image of self that is separate from others. This is a process that can happen throughout life, and Kohurt specifically talks about the relationship between patient and psychoanalyst in which the analyst becomes the selfobject of the patient. It is through reflection on the patient’s relationship with the analyst, and in understanding and overcoming their unavoidable failures to fully empathise and understand the patient that they then grow to understand their sense of self and separatedness from the selfobject, and Kohurt theories that the need for self objects is not something that is ever outgrown.
In my appointment with my constellation tutor from last term, Andrew Broadey, we spoke about both my performance last term and what I plan to do this term in regards to my dissertation. My feedback from last term was overall good, saying that I had consistently contributed lots of good points to the group and engaged people in discussion, however my essay grades were not what I wanted them to be. Although this was only formative feedback on a 500 word essay on Greenberg’s view on Avant Garde vs Kitsch, I still can’t help but be disappointed my grades fell under “good” and “satisfactory”, even though these are not bad grades. Andrew suggested that I make more references to specific examples of Greenberg’s dislike of kitsch, as well as compare him to his contemporaries, but my difficulty was in fitting this all into an essay of only 500 words. I found that by the time I had outlined the general points I had already run over the word count and I’m not sure how I would be able to fit all of these points in unless I mentioned them very briefly with a sentence on each. Perhaps that is what I should be aiming to do, but it feels to me like trying to cram in lots of brief statements on lots of things rather than going into any level of depth with anything detracts from the overall writing level of the essay? If this is practice for our dissertations though this should not be a problem, as at least there will be a much higher word count allowing me to go into detail about all the relevant areas.
In terms of my dissertation plan, I am looking at the relationship between humans and objects, specifically in terms of affection, love and sentimentality. The idea of humans bonding and forming an emotional connection with an object, or with another person through an object is something that has permeated through my work and research the past two years, and is a continuing point of interest for me. We often find ourselves treating objects fondly and that they become very important to us, not because of their intrinsic function (for example a mug containing a drink) but for the emotional connection we have with it, perhaps that object was given to us by someone important in our lives, or it is tied to a certain event in our lives, and should that object get damaged or broken it can be very upsetting even though the object itself can be easily replaced. Objects can provide emotional comfort and warmth in our lives which allow us to express and engage with our emotions even when we don’t have other people in our lives to do this with. It is in these times when objects can become especially valuable, becoming an emotional crutch and supporting us through hard times by reminding us that we still are capable of those connections and simulating that relationship that we are missing.
When talking about this with Andrew Broadey, he repeatedly brought up the notion of fetishism and collectors. While I understand the point he was making in that they also attach importance to objects above and beyond their primary function, I feel this is a very extreme end of the scale of what I am looking at. Fetishism is a very loaded and often demeaning term, which refers to a level of attachment that is unhealthy and to be avoided, often obscene, whereas what I am looking at is almost the opposite of that. I think that an affectionate and warm relationship between a person and object is something that is almost to be encouraged, providing them with a gentle and healthy expression of their positive emotions. While there is the risk of this a person then progressing from this into a fetishistic obsession, that is only in the case of a person developing an unhealthy relationship and becoming fixated on the object in question, which is not what I am looking at. It is like saying when looking at the loving relationship between two people and the positive effects that can have, to then be considering jealous and possessive relationships, which while they may in some instances cross over are often very separate from one another and should not be viewed under the same umbrella. I feel perhaps this is Andrew’s view being skewed by the fact this is a strong focus in his area of research, on fetishism and collection, and so he is approaching my topic through that lens as that is what he is trained to do.
As we have started in our second year of uni, we have progressed onto “level 5”, and with it comes a new set of criteria and expectations for our work. This is also true for constellation, our theory and lecture based work where we are expected to hone and practice our critical analysis and reflective skills in response to artists or ideas presented to us in lectures.
One thing I hope to do this year is to be more organized, and keep up to date with my blog and generally on top of and up to date with things going on in uni. So far, this isn’t going as well as I’d hoped, but I think I’m agonizingly making some progress and at the very least I’m not kicking it into the long grass. I have in fact bought myself a planner, although I’m finding it’s not quite as helpful as I had first hoped due to it’s undynamic nature. I feel a smart phone app would probably suit my needs better, but my phone is completely hopeless so for the moment I will have to make do with an old fashioned book.
Today our lecturer went over a few things such as the importance of reflecting on our blogs, but also our dissertations which are becoming ever imminent. “The sooner you start thinking about them, the better”, which is slightly daunting because at this point I don’t really have a huge amount of thought on the subject as of now. It will probably, as everything seems to do in my life, link back into the idea of connections and intimacy between people. But as to the problem of how do I express that in this format (again, an ongoing struggle) is as ever, a difficult one.
In terms of what format I will present my dissertation in, we have several options. I am torn between a classic dissertation, 8,000-10,000 words investigating a hypothesis or question, and an object based dissertation where you create an object and then write 6,000 words discussing that object and it’s meaning. Another potential choice is the business plan, which seems like a very useful platform to leave university with a fully functioning business ready to create and start generating income. However, I don’t have any business ideas, which is a key flaw in that plan.
In terms of where I am at the moment, I feel the overwhelming need to research. I am not the sort of person who can jump into an idea head first without a clear idea of what I’m doing and how I need to approach things. This is true in my Subject course as well as Constellation. However it has been difficult to get the ball rolling with my subject research as the books I want are already taken out. This is a frustrating problem that seems to permeate through a lot of my working life, where I have to motivation and enthusiasm to start working, but then barriers are put in my way and I find it difficult to push through them and have to same amount of enthusiasm when I come out the other side. I suppose that is just an aspect of life that everybody encounters, and you simply have to learn how to navigate or deal with those problems, but it can be frustrating nonetheless.
Over the course of the year I have been attending our university’s “constellation” sessions, which are lectures exploring the breadth of art and design in culture, philosophy, and many other areas so that we can see our practice in the context of the wider world and the potential influences and references that we can draw on. Overall I think I have found these sessions extremely interesting and engaging, although I did personally find the study skills sessions rather lacking. They have introduced me to artist’s work that I most likely would never have discovered in my own research looking at my own particular interest, but may become relevant to my work in the future.
The lectures I found particularly engaging were those that very theoretical or philosophical heavy, as you really needed to engage with them on a different level in order to follow and process the information, rather than simply looking at a piece of artwork and being able to appreciate it purely on a aesthetic value. Critically analyzing work is something that comes naturally to me, and having lectures that push my level of analysis are very enjoyable.
One area of constellation I have found particularly engaging was the option that I chose, when we were able to specialise in one subject of investigation. My subject was sonic arts, which I chose because it is an area of art I didn’t have much knowledge in but seemed to have a rich history and a wide use of applications, and could perhaps be linked into my work either now or in future. Over the course of our sonic arts lectures I found that I was introduced to many new artists and ideas that I was not previously aware of, one of the most influential being Pierre Schaeffer’s musique concrete. Our lecturer took us on a series of sound walks, where we simply listened to our surroundings with the idea that any noise around us could be perceived as sound. I find myself doing this activity ever more increasingly, and after watching a video on Schaeffer where he mentions the beauty of traffic as it is an ever changing noise that has its own rhythm and melodies that are never repeated I have found listening to the traffic to be very soothing and almost meditative. Other artists that have also had a strong influence on my work are particularly Susan Philipsz with her piece “Lowlands”. We were played this during our lecture as it was the Turner Prize winner of 2011 and in fact the first sonic arts piece to win the award, and was a controversial subject as to whether or not it was classed as art and worthy of the award. Personally, I found the piece to be captivating, and the distortion of the human voice is something that greatly influenced my Field group project, looking at the idea of the distortion of human generated noise.
My main issue with constellation, as a previously mentioned was the study skills. I feel like they gave me very little information, focusing on the most basic reading/writing/analysis skills and being only several hours on each topic once a week I didn’t come away with anything of value from them. Considering that we are tasked with writing a 2,500 word essay which we are graded on, and expected to employ a reasonably high level of analysis, critical writing with the use of referencing, I don’t think that any of the sessions we did equipped us with the level of skill needed for the essay. While I understand that they have to attend to people of a mixed skill level, it would have been useful for them to perhaps offer a more advanced level of sessions to follow on from the initial ones. I think it would have been useful for us to have been set a series of smaller essays or writing tasks throughout the year, perhaps 1,000-2,000 words which would have then been graded critically in the same manner of our essays and given feedback as to where we can improve. I personally with our sonic arts option have been set no writing tasks, and those groups that have seem to have no feedback aside from “you’re on the right track”, which isn’t particularly constructive. The only writing task I believe that I had been set during the study skills was to write an argument on a subject, but as a group. While the feedback was critical and constructive, writing as a group is vastly different to writing as an individual and so doesn’t necessarily help when writing an essay.