Collective Narrative: Thoughts on Final Proposal

For my final proposal, I want to continue with the theme that I explored in the last project, the Gallery of Lost Objects. In the prototype, I used only my own story and envisioned interviewing others to fill in gallery. There’s a place, though, where an archive of a range of stories about lost objects exists and is constantly updated: Twitter.

In the past few days, I’ve been exploring the tweets that come up with the search “I lost my,” and range of responses is fascinating. There’s the standard social media drama:

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Some are slightly more serious:

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And some are sad (though I tend to be skeptical of the motivations of anything personal posted to social media):

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Using the Twitter API, I want to collect the tweets that contain this phrase, categorizing them by the word that follows “I lost my…” I’m not yet sure how I want to display the text, other than the fact that want to distance them from the Twitter aesthetic and treat them each as a mini story. I’m also in Data Art and a digital mapping class, so I’m also thinking about creating visualizations down the line. For next week, though, I think I’ll stick to writing and a web page.

A Gallery of Lost Objects

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Assignment: Create a narrative in response to the City Reliquary Museum, based around objects. 

While thinking about this assignment and the stories that emerge from objects, I came across a New Yorker piece by Kathryn Schulz, about the different meanings of “loss” and how it applies to both things and people. In it, she references the poem “One Art,” by Elizabeth Bishop, which I recently rediscovered, about the art of losing things. It begins, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” Throughout the course of the poem, she moves from keys to the person she addresses in the poem, whom she has lost. Both the Schulz essay and the Bishop poem show the narrative possibilities of lost objects—the way that the absences become significant, and how sometimes the experience of losing something becomes a story in itself.

In the City Reliquary Museum, as in most exhibitions that display historical artifacts, the objects stand in for a memory or historical event. With lost objects, it’s the other way around. For this project, I wanted to explore the ways that memories and stories represent the objects that we no longer possess, for whatever reason. I created a prototype of an interactive site (made with Illustrator, jQuery, HTML, and CSS) that I envision as a larger collection of different narratives and shadows of lost artifacts.

The site lives here.

Multiple Stories: Sound Piece for Collective Narrative

For this assignment, I wanted to try to tell the story of a non-human subject, my sister’s dog Flo, and through that, tell a larger story about their neighborhood. My sister moved to Bedstuy, where, as a white person, she is in the minority. She is a gentrifier. Because of that, she has a strange relationship with her neighborhood; she has befriended her neighbors, who have welcomed enthusiastically her to the block, but she is also aware of her status as a new person in a place where many have lived for a while and as a white, well-off young person—and what all of that means in a place that is in the process of gentrifying. The dog, Flo, ridiculously friendly towards strangers, has helped her negotiate all of that.

The story is split into two parts: recordings from a walk with Flo and an interview with my sister. Obviously missing from the five-minute piece, though, are the voices of her neighbors (I recorded a walk in a snowstorm, which emptied out an otherwise lively and friendly block).

Narrative of Place

A small body of water off of Barren Island, Dead Horse Bay is a strange destination in Brooklyn with a strange history. In the 1700s, the beach held flour mills, which gave way to factories in the 1800s. The ominous name comes from the horse-rendering plants that left animal bones along along the bay, still decomposing in the layers of sediment.

In the early 20th century, as the factories closed, New York used the marsh as landfill. The waste was capped in the 1930s, but it burst two decades later. Bits of trash—beer bottles, cleaning products, table cloths, the soles of shoes—have leaked out along the beach ever since, forming a natural museum dedicated to the everyday objects that people cast aside nearly a century ago.

Walkers along the beach can explore its past in the waste collected there, piecing together an account of New York’s history, both real and imagined.

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Response to Posthumous Portraiture

When I go to a new exhibit gallery, I dutifully visit the description on the wall first thing. If there is text in a gallery, I will try to digest it. It’s a practice I’ve been trying to resist sometimes recently. Occasionally, I think it’s healthy to just let art wash over you, free from context.

At the American Folk Art Museum, I went straight for the description of “Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America.” I’m glad that I did; the exhibition was a collection rooted in historical information, and so it provided useful context. On top of that, though, it also offered an important emotional frame. Looking back at the past, it said, we falsely assume that because death was a more common part of life, loss must have been duller. I kept that in my head throughout my time there, seeing evidence everywhere of the depth of the feeling in losing a loved one in the 1800s.

At a certain point, though, I had to cut myself off from reading each detailed label beside the paintings. They were well-written and useful, but after I had established a basic vocabulary for understanding the portraits, I found them distracting. In theory, I like that all the labels were there and more vivid than the average museum plaque. It’s another way to celebrate the stories of each subject, and, therefore, like the portraits themselves, breath life back into the dead. But there was so much life in the artwork already that I didn’t always want to sterilize them with historical context.

The gallery of daguerrotypes was all the more powerful because the portraits were at a remove from their descriptions. (Of course, they’re also powerful because of the striking gruesomeness of a dead child posed for a photograph, a creepiness that worked well throughout the show). The mass of portraits laid out together under the glass anonymously didn’t desensitize the viewer and confirm the false assumptions of loss in history; somehow, it did the opposite. I teared up, which reminded me of the only time I remember crying at a museum—seeing Edvard Munch’s obsessively repeated prints of his dying sister. Both that series and this exhibit are so moving because they show that strong human urge for preservation. It was palpable in the Munch prints, and it was palpable here.

24-Hour Comic

Assignment: Document every hour of the day in whatever medium. 

 

8am: 

[Bed] Alarm goes off.

9am:

[Living room] It was difficult to get out of bed
after waking up for an hour at 3am. Since then,
have: had a cup of coffee, made slow progress on
the Thursday crossword, given up on the Thursday
crossword, and yelled at the news again.

10am:

[Kitchen table] I began working on a music review,
and the album grew on me the second time through.
Also: Participated in lazy Internet activism by
signing a petition.

11am:

[Kitchen table] Some work but more procrastination.

12pm:

[Leaving Brooklyn] On my way to the American Folk
Art Museum.

1pm: 

[In transit] It’s a beautiful, warm day (for winter),
but windy on Broadway. I wanted to stay outside.
On the train, I listened to a podcast on Israel and
played a game on my phone, and when I looked up,
I realized I had almost forgotten where I was.

2pm:

[American Folk Art Museum]

3pm:

[ITP] Back at school, working on the album review
that I procrastinated in the morning. It was busier
when I first came in, but the floor is quieter now.

4pm:

[ITP] I have one last sentence to write. The last
sentence is always difficult.

5pm:

[In transit] Returning home, where I have food in
the fridge (because grocery shopping is still a part
of my routine in the first week of school).

6pm: 

[Home, later] I forgot about 6pm documentation.

7pm:

[Brooklyn Museum] Waiting for a talk to start. It
wasn’t busy when I arrived, and I found an empty
circular bench.

8pm: 

[Brooklyn Museum] Saw: several drawings of nude
Iggy Pop, chairs in storage, and a Hiram Powers
sculpture (I thought of the cast of his dead son from
the museum earlier). Two museums in one day is a
rare occurrence.

9pm: 

[Living room] Back home and throwing together a late
dinner (how long does homemade tomato sauce keep?).
On the train, I was speaking to my friend about African
black soap and a woman jumped into the conversation,
saying the she swears by it. We got off the train with her
and chatted until she went to a different exit.

10pm: 

[Living room] I hung out with my roommate then fell into
a news rabbit hole.

11pm: 

[Living room] Still falling.

12pm: 

[Bed] The nightly long-distance relationship phone call
has been dominated by current events this week.
Sleep soon.

 

Conclusions:

I enjoyed the assignment, though I found it surprisingly difficult. Because we had to check in at regular intervals, I was always conscious about how my day appeared from the outside; I was conscious of making it a coherent story. Looking back, though, the story emerges in ways that I didn’t notice as I was living it—in the through-lines that extend into multiple entries, such as reacting to the first week of Trump’s presidency, planning and eating meals, interacting or not interacting on the train, and considering the art that I was seeing.