The Nocturnal Life of Objects: Reflections on Object Retrieval


Last week I spent seven consecutive nights on a route master bus in the quad of UCL as part of Object Retrieval (see entry below). Here are some relfections on the project and  some links to my contributions  to the vast object biography that now exists for the object in question: a toy car of a 1963 Ford Sunliner from the UCL Pathology Collection.

1. The Nocturnal Life of Objects, Written in the final few hours of the final nigh shift:


As the final nightshift draws to an end I think about how the experiences of encounter with the object have varied over the past week, and how our nightly vigil has restricted us from asking: What does an object do when we are not looking?

Just like the well trodden path of narratives of animation where objects magically come to life away from the human gaze, there is something irresistible about this notion; like the imagining of the halls of a museum at night, or the quiet of an archive storeroom (like the one our object is sure to return to). Here, an object appears to be in a state between material presence and fulfilling its promise of representation when the lights come on and the viewer approaches.

Yet to image is to make the object appear. This state between, the true nocturnal life of the object, will always be unknown to us.

2. Towards a Futurology of the Object: In collaboration with Artist Katy Beinart.

On the first night we began a strand of research around the cultural significance of the Ford Sunliner that unearthed a bank of images showing stills from films featuring the car (see separate entry). These images evoked the wider context of the car, as cinematic icon of 1960s America, specifically the stigma and myth making around the glamour of road trips, car chases, and car crashes which had a certain melancholic and unglamorous resonance with the harmful effect our Sunliner had on the boy.

This relation between the harmful effects of the toy to those of the full sized car brought to mind Roland Barthes’ essay on Toys from Mythologies in which he argues that the child is taught to be a user rather than a creator through the scaled down versions of adult sized objects. (A Copy of the essay has been put into the Materials Repository). This concentration on the ‘toy’ element of the object has lead to conversations about the function of toys as a bridge to fiction, a tool that can unlock the imagination, or suppress it as Barthes might argue.

With this dialogue in mind we considered the state of abjection that our car is now in, that it’s life as a toy is long over.

As a means of disruption to the object as artefact, which has been the focus of the project so far, we have set up a series of interventions in an attempt to write a Futurology for the Object, to return it to the state of a toy in the context it currently finds itself, as an object under scrutiny, on this big red bus.

Part 1 – Road Trip

Part 2 – Dowsing

Part 3 – Replica

Part 4 – Cut Out (Drawn by Katy Bienart)

Part 5 – Cluedo Card (Drawn by Katy Bienart)

Part 6 – Back to the Future

3.  The Turn of the Screw


We could read the crude and disproportionate screw in the base, in the context of it’s place as a teaching tool in the Pathology Collection, as a response to the fact that the car committed it’s own act of violence towards the boy. The joyful function of its past life as a toy (or lead-sweet lolly pop) is denied it by lifting the wheels off of the road and sealing it away from eager tongues. This might lead us down a path of questioning the possibility of the objects agency, that this particular Ford Sunliner carries with it a history of violence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s