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New exhibition highlights our relationships with things

News: Feb 01, 2019

Can our relation to things be considered romantic relationships? Which things do we cherish and what gets thrown away? An upcoming exhibition at the Museum of World Culture explores these questions, as part of the exhibition is based on the research project Re:heritage.

“Our project is part of a larger exhibition on consumption and the future of the planet. Our contribution deals with second-hand things and reuse”, says Staffan Appelgren who runs the Re:heritage project together with Anna Bohlin. Both are social anthropologists at the School of Global Studies as well as Cluster Leaders within the CCHS.

The exhibition focuses on the impact of consumption on the planet and addresses issues about change and adaptation towards a more sustainable world. Sweden often prides itself on being good at environmental and climate work, but the country also scores high in consumption statistics.
“We want to highlight the relation between humans and things, in the same way we recognize romantic relationships. Objects not only have functional purposes, a great deal is about emotions – so we use love as a metaphor”, says Staffan Appelgren.

His and Anna Bohlin's contribution has three parts. Part A highlights the idea that we actually have relationships with things. We will see mugs and cups donated by members of the public along with stories about what those items have meant in peoples’ lives. Also described are the owners’ first meeting with their mugs, how they fell in love with them, and what they have experienced together.

Part B deals with the long-term relationships and how they have developed over time – as a counterweight to the dominant narrative of the throw-away mentality of consumerism.
“It is about those mundane faithful partners who are pretty good in a quiet sort of way; a nice help in everyday life. There can also be fond memories linked to them.”
The visitor will meet a wall with various objects purchased in second-hand shops, and can also, via a screen, submit information about an object that they have had for a long time. In this part, the researchers will collect data with the aim of using it in an articles or other scientific context.

"Many people seem to feel bad about having a lot of ordinary stuff laying around. Some of those we interviewed almost apologized for not being more organized, haunted by the ideal to declutter."

“This part also speaks to the theme of decluttering and tidying up. Many people seem to feel bad about having a lot of ordinary stuff laying around. Some of those we interviewed almost apologized for not being more organized, haunted by the ideal to declutter. We want to evoke more positive emotions towards their belongings– reenergize the relationship. You don’t have to cut the relationships and get rid of them, maybe you can start using and repairing them instead”, says Staffan Appelgren.

In Part C, the attention shifts to theme of brokenness, care and repair. Here, the visitor may visit a “thing-therapist” and talk about the downsides of a relationship that is beginning to faulter; perhaps you are fed up with one of your belongings and thinking of getting rid of it? Perhaps something else is becoming more attractive? However, this is not a real therapist, but a dummy with a projection of a human face, which allows some limited interaction.
“It's a bit playful. We have seen that the relational aspect of things are important. Things matter, it's like social relationships. Should you take care of your things in a certain way? Perhaps the therapist can help renewing the joy, or make you get rid of the object in a respectful manner so that someone else can benefit from it.”

The exhibition Human Nature opens at the Museum of World Culture on February 8 and runs until spring 2020. It will then be moved to The Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm for one and a half year.

Read more about the opening (information in Swedish)



Originally published on: criticalheritagestudies.gu.se

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