Object Journalism and Archiving the Postmodern Vernacular

Posted on July 24, 2020 by Tony Cho
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Holed up in a tiny alleyway in TriBeCa, the Mmuseumm is not your ordinary museum space. Atypical at first glance, and upon closer inspection it is in many respects a juxtaposition of a museum. Most museums attempt to illustrate prestige through it’s facade and architecture. The Mmuseumm attempts to get rid of any semblance of facade and is instead place inside a broken elevator. Most museums also attempt to fill their space with prestigious works that hold great monetary value. Mmuseumm attempts to display extraordinarily ordinary objects like a can of Arizona Ice Tea amongst other everyday objects. However for all of it’s obvious contrasts the Mmuseumm is not designed to make a statement about museums nor is it some retelling of Duchamp’s rendition of conceptual art. Rather it is a collection of stories of our present told through the lens of everyday objects.

PFor curator Alex Kalman there is something magical about our everyday objects. The objects so mundane and ordinary that they are hidden from our sight, easily unnoticed in the flow of life. For Kalman these objects are representative of the human condition and the stories of existence in the 21st century. Alex reveals that, “It’s not art. It's just vernacular.” when speaking of his collection. Vernacular situated in the context of the museum is not the story, merely the medium for the story. For Kalman these objects go beyond it’s material properties. Objects like the can of Arizona Ice Tea is a reminder of rampant police brutality that exists in the US- it is what Trayvon Martin was holding on the night of his murder. Other objects featured such as a Hoed and Shouders (this is actually not a typo) shampoo bottle tells the story of a failed Venezualan economy and its people’s desire for comfort and stability. It becomes clear once viewing the objects and reading their stories that these objects convey a much deeper, layered, emotional story about life and culture. Coming away from the exhibition it was somewhat validing to see these everyday objects, and the lives of everyday people be exhibited as stories that need to be told.

By elevating the everyday objects to be deemed worthy of inspection incites a strange exchange in value. What is plastic, mass produced, and inevitably disposable is at the same time most viscerally illustrative of the stories that Mmuseumm tells. Take for example the homemade gas masks made out of plastic water bottles by protesters in Gaza on display. Speckled with dirt and debris, with scratch marks stretched over the plastic, there is something eerie and unsettling about seeing these homemade gas masks, seemingly used on display at the Mmuseumm. The hidden nature of these everyday objects seems to play in parallel to the fact that much of these stories of protest, brutality, and human struggle go largely unnoticed. If material culture is a reflection of our attitudes in society, surely there is something unnerving about the fact that the stories of human struggle come as cheap as the plastic, and aluminium that they are embodied in.

Perhaps then, it is time to be more conscious of the vernacular that Kalman speaks about. That there is magic to the everyday and the ordinary. In an age where our time is spent looking at screens, data, and digital content all speaking toward the uniqueness of experiences there is a danger in letting the magic of the ordinary slip by. That objects that we take for granted may be warranted for critical examination is something that needs to be part of discourse and dialogue. However, if the existence of Mmuseumm can be taken as a sign for something, it is that these ‘other ways of knowing’, and our hope for rebuilding our relationship with objects is not yet extinct.