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image:Julian Hughes

image: Julian Hughes

image: Julian Hughes

image: Julian Hughes

image: Julian Hughes

image: Julian Hughes

Group Process - Project and Symposium
Loughborough University organized by Radar
Jan/Feb 2009

Item Store was a custom built unit, and was conceived as a place that opens up our relation with objects. It presented a variety of ‘objects-in-waiting’ - shapeless, yet still appearing ‘designed’ and rather tactile, having no features enabling categorisation. Yet they offered enough stimuli to invite ideas, discussion, interpretations, and negotiations.

The objects’ form and colour were similar, and their display unit was as attractive as the objects itself. Every object in the store also had a label, which both offered and denied the object a role, and prompted a range of possible uses, images, histories, or even instruction manuals. The same object could embody a range of functions, from fashion item, to toy, to collectors item, to art object, etc.

The combination of handling, speculation, and casual interplay offered by the Item Store was intended to develop a relational awareness between people and objects that might renew our attitude to - or even ethics of - materiality.


image 1 and 2: Looking from the point of view of Sports technology, the object – human relation is all about the ultimate match, the perfect interaction between the athlete and the object. High-tech materials, the right moment of touch and precise contact points are essential.

image 3 and the text on the window of the Item Store:
‘Looking for objects that are open-minded, flexible and willing to take on a wide variety of different meanings and functions. Are you an object that is tired of the short, pre-determined and competitive life span? Are you tired of being limited to expressing one specific thing and being seductive solely through your surface material, colour, and form? Are you looking for a more durable and enriching experience with humans beings? Get away from pushy, shouting and talking objects- develop your capacity to have an open ear for humans and be part of a high quality, un-demanding, pleasant and sustainable environment. Be part of the Item Store!’.

image five: John Edward is now hosting one of the objects of the Item Store and keeps it in his office at the department of sports technology. His task is to educate this object and to turn it into a toaster.
From: J.M.Edwardx@lboro.ac.uk


Nick Slater from Radar approached me in June 2008 to ask if I would be interested in taking part in the Group Process project. In his e-mail, he had paid particular attention to my ‘interest in objects and surroundings that “have an emotional value and relational ability”. ’ He was particularly interested in my exploration of the relational possibilities of objects.

I was excited about the idea of taking part, and at that time I was working on a new project called Item Store. I had just finalised a first phase of this project: the making of objects as tools for a specific form of interaction. A central theme in my work is my fascination with ‘things’. How do people and things relate to one another? What is the most enriching experience between ‘object-subjects’ and human-subjects?

[Image wedding - ‘Droge-Wendel, Objects make our world’ ]

With Item Store, I was aiming to build an environment that could become a platform for dialogue on contemporary attitudes towards objects. As the title implies, the Item Store refers to the logic of the shop as a primary - and easily grasped - site for the negotiation of relationships between people and objects. For this project I was striving for exchange and collaborations with specialists from different working fields – so Nick Slater had come up with the right question at the right time.

When I began working as an artist in 1992, I dealt with objects that had identifiable values and meanings associated with them. The work Dröge-Wendel (1992), was my marriage to a piece of Wendel furniture. In 1994, my Renault 16 TL was consecrated in Rome (La benedizione della macchina, Prix de Rome, 1994). These are highly literal ‘relationships’ that enact or exaggerate some latent relationship I perceive between people and things. But with time, and in search of greater clarity, I realised that it is the supposedly ‘neutral’, ‘empty’, ‘open’, or otherwise undefined objects that might instead begin to activate the questions I was asking. I began to look for objects that were more neutral in their significance, objects with fewer or with no readily identifiable characteristics.

[image ‘La benedizione della macchina’]

In my recent work, I have looked for objects and surroundings that do not necessarily want to express anything specific. I am searching for objects that have relational abilities. My Black Ball (2000-ongoing), which is 3.5m in diameter and made from felt, is a good example. It is open to a wide range of interpretations and can be whatever the public wants it to be: a sculpture, a toy, a friend or a tool. When I began working on the black ball, I primarily wanted to make an object that could listen, an object that works with me to discover new sets of relationships. I was not interested in making an object that is convinced about itself, that tries to impose a pre-existing or fixed attitude, such as the chair example above. I was interested in an object that shows a capacity and willingness to interact, to adopt and to absorb feelings. Instead of thinking of the object’s wants and demands, I was shifting towards the idea of designing the object’s own relational system: its memory, its capacity to listen and absorb experience.

[Image Black Ball]

When designing a participatory working process, the challenge and excitement lies in designing the right constellation of constraints. If this constellation of constraints is built in the right way, the process will go smoothly. It will be transparent and will not require much interference from the artist. Within the context of a group process the object takes on the lead, so I prefer to substitute my presence and control for the object itself, and what it can do. By having specific qualities, objects evoke a specific kind of interaction - they carry the ‘code’ for the interaction. My role is to follow that process and document the situations that are created by the interaction between object and audience.

In the case of the various adventures of the Black Ball, people in the street can get involved and choose to invite the ball to stay overnight. They can roll it through the streets or take it on a boat tour, and so on. I stand as far back as possible and let the object do its job. The Black Ball works as a tracer, making the creativity of the people visible and subtly revealing underlying notions of a specific location. At the same time, it works as a link between people and cultures. Through its travels, the Black Ball now can tell a story about the people of Istanbul, Newcastle, Odense or Bolzano.

With Item Store, I wanted to make objects that have similar capacities to instigate collaboration, and the same unassuming nature as the Black Ball. Like the Black Ball, these objects should be open to a wide range of possible interpretations. I wanted them to be objects that do not try to express a certain attitude, objects that can listen and absorb.

In addition, I wanted these objects to evoke discussions about objects in general, about what they are, what they can be and should not be. The challenge was to design objects that can evoke memories and produce awareness about the way we experience and approach objects. Could the objects of the Item Store – their materiality and physical presence – enable me, and others, to produce new thoughts? Is it possible to make objects that allow us to think with them and through them?

I also wanted to identify those areas where my field of interest – the relational abilities of objects – overlaps the fields of interest of the academics at Loughborough University. I began scanning the university departments, like I would usually scan a specific town location, looking for research areas that could somehow link up with the intentions and objectives of the Item Store. Furthermore I asked two theorists living in the Netherlands, philosopher Louise Schouwenberg and anthropologist Emilie Gomart to work with me during the preparation period. Our discussions were brought together in two texts: ‘My Darling Objects’, by Emilie Gomart and ‘Just Enough’, by Louise Schouwenberg, are published on my website. Our conversations also identified several contact areas in which the exchange of ideas about the Item Store could make sense within the Loughborough setting. Discussions with Maartje Hoogsteyns and her publication ‘Artifact Human Being: Research into the Debate about Materiality within Material Culture Studies’ also provided me with new entrance points.

Loughborough University is well known for its achievements in the field of sports. Sports technology is all about the ultimate match – the perfect interaction between the athlete and the object. It concerns high-tech materials, the right moment of touch, precise contact points, and so on. Hoogsteyns’ research is all about that and made me look at terms like ‘affordance’ and ‘very prepared’, also led me to investigate the field of material culture studies theories of Daniel Miller and Bruno Latour, I here realised that many of the questions I had been struggling with for years are discussed in the field of social science and can be very relevant in the field of sports science.

[Image two athletes wearing object or two objects in the sport hall]
[Image item store Loughborough and text from window]

Back in the Item Store, the objects were prepared with labels attached to them. The specific qualities of the objects were carefully designed, so that the objects would serve as an interface and initiate this process of exchange. For example, I use Neoprene, a special fabric used in diving suits. In my objects the fabric feels highly designed and purposeful, but at the same moment extremely indeterminate. The objects’ shape and weight is a sort of approximation of ‘thingness’: I wanted to transmit the sense of them being ‘just enough’ to be objects, but no further information about them or their purpose. Throughout the project, and based on the input of the public, I would then alter the form of the objects as well as their labels. Slowly, the store filled up with new labels and new ideas. They served as visible traces of the conversations and encounters, but also of new ways of looking at things. The Item Store was a means of collecting the (for me) unknown ways of looking and approaching thing.

[Image of object from Item store with label visible]

The collaborative aspect of this project placed the input of highly trained researchers and the general public on the same level. Clare Bauling, a student at the Department of Fine Arts at Loughborough Univerisity, assisted me throughout the project. After the opening, which had been extremely busy, we were now eagerly awaiting our academic ‘invited guests’. Due to exams, time constraints, and despite the interest of those who replied to our invitation, many couldn’t make it to the Item Store. Most of our ‘customers’ were students and passers–by, and those who attended the presentation we gave at the University’s Department of Materials, who made microscopic images of our materials and discussed their specific approach to the material.

[Image of John Edwards, Department of Manufacturing Engineering, Loughborough University with the object: here toaster and his e-mail]

[Image of microscopic image material department]
[image from women from department of criminology]

We also gave a presentation at the local market in town. Here, people were puzzled about the objects and tried hard to identify them as merchandise. Potential customers walked by several times before approaching us and questioning us about the objects. An interesting confusion always arose because we had taken away the possibility of an answer to the question: ‘what is this?’ People tried all sorts of approaches to the objects then, a far more experimental response.

[Image of market]

What I am now asking myself is why a project like this works well with an uninformed audience in the streets, but not with an invited academic audience on university grounds? In my future projects, I now want to focus on interdisciplinary exchange and how to make it work. This is because the exchanges that we had when preparing this project, and when speaking with the invited academics, showed exciting new developments in the way academics discuss matter, that there is a new awareness for the materiality of objects in our daily lives. In a way my work attempts to transmit a more instinctive awareness of these highly theorised ideas that nevertheless exist as a latent part of everyday experience. The Item Store is an attempt to do this through discussion and paying attention to everyday physical and psychological experience. I want to do this by focusing on the materiality of things and by making objects that can serve as tools for thinking and feeling about this subject.


‘Our Darling Objects: A Dialogue between an Artist and a Philosopher’, by Emilie Gomart, and ‘Just Enough’, by Louise Schouwenberg, can be found at www.yvonnedrogewendel.nl , under ‘text EG’ and ‘text LS’.

Further details about the process of interaction concerning the Black Ball can be found under ‘work descriptions’, at www.architectureofinteraction.net

Subject: RE: thanks for coming in today
Date: Mon 9 Feb 2009 17:36:41 CET
To: drogxx@xs4all.nl

Hi Yvonne
Thanks for the Tea and chat this lunchtime I really enjoyed it. By the time I arrived at my department three members of staff, (one a prof.) followed me into my office to find out what I was carrying !
They stayed about 20 minutes as I explained I was widening my role in education. I now had to educate this item and turn it into something new.
It had turned into a motorbike seat by the time they left.
I expect it to overhear some interesting conversions about itself during its time in my office. Surly It has to learn something.

image 13 to 16 :

At the local market, people were puzzled about the objects and tried hard to identify them as merchandise. Potential customers walked by several times before approaching us and questioning us about the objects.