Janet: Stuff – how do objects tell our story?

Look around

 – at all the stuff that surrounds you. The objects that we, as humans, have designed to make our lives pleasing or easier for ourselves. To entertain, amuse or satisfy us in some way.

So much stuff

– so that now, most of us have way too much. But, in the midst of all that stuff, I maintain that all of us have items that are so treasured they go way beyond being just objects and things.

They are part of who we are. They represent our tastes, our values, and our story.

With these thoughts of objects that we design on my mind, I am reminded of my visit to the 2016 exhibition at the Western Australian Museum: A History of the world in 100 Objects. This award-winning exhibition was a joint venture between BBC Radio and the British Museum and after a successful season in the UK, it travelled to Japan, Abu Dhabi and Australia.

I was intrigued by the thought that millions of years of human history could be represented by a small and select range of objects.

One of the first items I saw was the Olduvial stone-chopping tool. At first glance, it didn’t look much more than a rock …, well, it turns out that this rock is a tool specifically designed by our ancestors, 1.8 – 2 million years ago, to access the marrow found inside bones (Paleo diet anyone?).

Object 1: The oldest human made chopping tool in the British Museum.

Object No 24 showcased 2000 year old beautifully decorated Paracas textile. It is amazing to think that the vibrant colours and nature of the material, made of alpaca or llama wool, were woven and decorated such a long time ago. The people of Peru were certainly ahead of their time.

Object No 24, Nasca. Mantle (“The Paracas Textile”), 100-300 C.E. Cotton, camelid fiber, textile: Brooklyn Museum

I was happy to see artworks also featured, but I was surprised by the pieces selected. I can’t say what should replace them so defer to the selection process of the exhibition curators!

Object No 75 Dürer’s ‘Rhinoceros’ (1515). Such a great example of an artist’s interpretation. As the artist Dürer never saw a real rhinoceros, it is (literally) a wonderful illustration of human imagination based entirely on a descriptive brief.

Object No 75, Rhinoseros was created by Albrecht Dürer who, in his day, was a famous painter and printmaker  (Renaissance, 1515)

Object No 93 is Hokusai’s The Great Wave (1830), which is an iconic Japanese artwork that is an excellent representation of an object being  “famous for being famous.”

Object No 93, Under the Wave off Kanagawa, is one of the most recognised Japanese prints in the world. Created by Katsushika Hokusai in 1830.

Object No 96, titled In the dull village, is a 1966 sketch by artist David Hockney. By depicting homosexuality in a time of changing attitudes, this artwork definitely tells a story of emerging human rights, which is still relevant 50 years on.

Object 96, In the dull village (1966) is a print by David Hockney.

Object No 99 is the credit card. What a clever statement! This one little card represents the vast changes to our world banking processes, relationship with money and of course our acquisition of more stuff.

Finally, Object No 100, represents our future direction. The solar powered lamp and charger is a clear demonstration of how we are using technology to change our lives and is both now and future oriented.

Object No 99, the credit card and No 100, the solar-powered lamp and charger from the exhibition, A History of the World in 100 Objects 

The video below is a great summary of the BBC broadcast: A History of the World in 5 Minutes! The British Museum & BBC kindly displays all 100 objects in it.

When I look around at some of the objects I have, they represent my tastes certainly, but also aspects of my life’s journey.

For instance, the organic shaped bowl that reminds me of the beauty that is found in shape and form, but also my daughter who designed and created it. An old chair we had re-covered (rather than throwing out), only to find it has a wonderful history from the 1940’s. Every time I look at that cheerful and newly covered chair I marvel at its journey to our house.

Two special objects from my story…

Of course, there is more! My limited edition John Lennon prints, which (to save money), I framed myself—30 years ago. They are still a great source of joy. Then there is my prized Buddha statue and zebra mirror, both objects I was so drawn to that I bought them even though at the time we couldn’t really afford them. Today, they are all still deeply treasured and part of my personal history

It is now a year on from that exhibition, and as you can see, I am still thinking about it and reflecting on how objects tell our story…

So, how does the stuff around you reflect your story?

Yours in design


Some Extra Information:
In this video, Director of the British Museum talks about how items for the exhibition were selected.