Week 5- Interpreting objects and collections by Susan M. Pearce

Objects as meaning; or narrating the past:

Its connotations and historical context are extremely personal, giving it the value and emotional tone of a souvenir: nostalgic, backward-looking and bitter-sweet.
It acts as the validation of a personal narrative: when the original owner told his story of the great battle, he referred to his souvenirs to bear out the truth of what he was saying, and help him make his personal selection of moments which he wished to recall.
(The red jacket in national army museum, London) –p 20
The nature of interpretation is then examined in terms of viewer-response, and this leads to discussion of the relationship between individual responses and the social consensus of meaning, and so of the role of the curator. Finally, objects are seen as one of several ways of narrating the past. –p 21
Objects (and other messages) operate as a sign when they stand for the whole of which they are an intrinsic part, as the jacket does for the actual events of Waterloo. –p 23
In the example chosen here, the sign carries meaning is able to do so because, unlike we ourselves who must die, it bears an ‘eternal’ relationship to receding past, and it is this what we experience as the power of ‘ the actual object’. –p 25
The object only takes on life or significance when the viewer carries out his realization, and this is dependent partly upon his disposition and experience, and partly upon the content of the object which works upon on him. It is interplay which creates meaning; however, the precise convergence can never be exactly pinpointed but ‘must always remind virtual, as it is not to be identified either with the reality of the text or with the individual disposition of the reader’. –p 26
The message or meaning which the object offers is always incomplete and each viewer fills in the gaps in his own way, thereby excluding other possibilities: he looks he makes his own decisions about how the story is to be told of.
The past survives in three ways: as objects or material culture; as physical landscape (the difference between which and artifacts is conventional rather than essential); and narratives (which may, of course, take the form of film or tape as well as of written text). –p 27

The urge to collect:

In 1932 Durost, one of the earliest students of collecting, offered:
As collection is basically determined by the nature of the value assigned to the objects, or ideas possessed. If the predominant value of an object or idea for the person possessing it is intrinsic, i.e., if it is value primarily for use, or purpose, or aesthetically pleased quality, or other value inherent in the object or accruing to it by whatever circumstances of custom, training, or habit, it is not a collection. If the predominant value representative or representational, i.e., if said object or idea is valued chiefly for the relation it bears to some other object or idea, or objects, or ideas, such as being one of a series, part of a whole, a specimen of a class, then it is the subject of a collection.
At some point in the process the objects have to be deliberately viewed by their owner or potential owner as a collection, and this implies intentional selection, acquisition and disposal. It also means that some kind of specific value comes the giving of a part of self-identify.

Everyone has the experience of collecting. I used to collect things when I was little. But I never seriously think about why some people dedicate their lives to collect specific objects. Through this book I learned:

The value of the collections to the owner does not depend on the price, material, function or their history but determined by “memories”. People are emotional animals. To some extent, collection is a kind of emotional reflection and projection. People connect their own memories and experiences with particular objects and form new values for the objects and collections. It can also be seen that that the value of each collection or object could be different, which differs from who are the audiences interact with those collections.

Also, because of its value is determined by personal emotion, which means a same object could talk different stories due to everyone has different interpretations based on their own experiences. That is to say, one object could have at least 2 version of narrative: one is from the original owner or where it comes from, the original history of the object itself; the other is the understanding of the audiences it contacts with, how the audiences explain the story behind the object.

Except the emotional connection, collections also allow people to connect the past and future and extend one’s perspective. Human life is short but object with well preservation can last hundred or thousand years longer. By collecting the objects can preserve the past, the history and the culture. Also, the collections are able to be passed down to future generations and continue as a proof that we once lived.

Furthermore, I think the action of collecting is a reflection toward life. Many modern people only pay attention on pursuing how to earn more money or have a better quality of material life but forget that to experience, learn and live in the culture they are living with is also very important thing to do. Collecting is normally a beginning when people started to realize that material desire is not the only thing they should pursue, and started to pay more attention on spiritual and cultural content in life. Through the collecting experience, people can learn more knowledge and gain historical and cultural awareness in the particular area.

There are many different levels of the meaning of collecting. It could start from just a desire of something, then building up a hobby, next gaining professional knowledge, finally to cultural inheritance. But I think more importantly, the meaning of collecting is to share. It is like a story, you have to have audiences to share the story, then you can gain responses. The collections and objects also need to be shared and interact with people and they can reveal their values.

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