Objects 1 and 2
Editors: Carlos Mustienes, Giuliana Rando, and Valerie
Objects 1 and 2' show photos of objects from
around the world, ranging from an Oxygen pollution
helmet for babies to an Eco-Coffin that folds
into a bag and can be carried on your shoulder...
From the Publisher
Things, objects, stuff, trinkets, tools, materials,
gadgets, the things we use, abuse, throw away, cherish,
depend on: these are the things we own, simple objects
for our everyday lives. They may or may not hold
special meaning to us, but their importance, as
objects of cultural identity, is unmistakable.
Produced by COLORS under the direction of Oliviero
Toscani, famous for his controversial Benetton campaigns,
Extra/Ordinary Objects is a humorous and educational
guide to stuff from all over the world.
Although 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1' and 'Extra/Ordinary
Objects 2' are sold separately and focus upon different
themes, their presentation, editorial, and overall
attitude is identical, and they are therefore being
reviewed here as a set.
The books present a range of objects that surprise,
disorientate, and delight the reader. The editorial
input flits from seriousness to an often amused
and mocking tone, and despite its deeply flawed
commentary, Extra/Ordinary Objects 1 and 2 encourage
the reader to re-examine their relationship, presumptions,
and preoccupations with their own object world.
One consideration to bear in mind if the books are
to be viewed in a family context is that they contain
photos of sexual objects that may cause offence.
The World As Object
The title 'Extra/Ordinary Objects' is well chosen.
Many of the objects presented in these books are
indeed ordinary in their usual cultural or social
setting. It is only when the objects are presented
in a 'gallery of curiosities' to a predominantly
Western ethnocentric audience, that they are perceived
of as extraordinary.
first object in 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1' is
a Welcome Cat from Japan. The short editorial
comment that hovers above this mass produced,
culturally specific symbol, states 'According
to Japanese tradition, manekinekos (beckoning
cats) are supposed to bring good luck to households
- they also beckon guests to come in'. This
statement may appear innocuous enough, but TASCHEN,
the publishers, target their books to a particular
kind of audience, and given their demographic,
the choice of object will likely be viewed of
Perhaps it is the phrase 'are supposed to bring
good luck...' rather than offering a more neutral
choice of words like 'are viewed as bringing good
luck...' that lay bare the editors underlying approach
to the presentation of objects in these books.
Kitsch (or kitch) is originally from the German
word meaning 'trash' although more recently the
word has been used to describe objects of poor taste
and usually poor quality. I'm not suggesting that
the books are full with kitch, they're not. The
first page in any book however indicates the books
intent, and it's clear from this and the following
pages, that we're in for a tour of objects from
a particular mindset that appears to know a little,
yet asserts a lot...
is synonymous with objects of bad taste
that are so bad they're good in an ironic
way. In the fifties and sixties kitsch
was - and still is - highly collectable.
Kitsch can be anything from flying ducks
to Elvis toilet roll holders.'
BBC News Online.
Extra/Ordinary Objects 1 and 2 however are interesting
as they present a particular view of the world which
dominate much of the West's attitude to cultural
objects that are outside its sphere. A view of the
world which categorises objects in an amused, superior
way, with a smattering of popular science, morality,
and assumed authority.
Political Point Scoring
The books take objects that fall roughly into one
of several general 'object themes': food and physical
consumption; pets; articles of dress; apparel; spiritual
and religious; childhood; sexual; playthings, dolls,
and idols; green and political issues.
There are many occasions when objects are chosen
to make simplistic political points, and it is on
these occasions that the book is at its weakest.
typical example of flagging up a political issue
with a moral perspective appears towards the
end of 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1'.
A photo of a watch on page 184 includes the
'In Tienanmen Square Beijing, Chinese soldiers opened
fire on demonstrators on June 3, 1989. The government
said that 300 people were killed; independent estimates
put the death toll into thousands. Margaret Thatcher,
the British prime minister, was 'appalled by the
indiscriminate shooting of unarmed people'. Polish
leader Lech Walesa called it 'brutal genocidal violence'.
The People's Government of Beijing took a different
view. It commissioned this watch, bought from a
Beijing street vendor, 'in commemoration of the
suppression of the turmoil in June 1989'.
This would be an interesting launch pad for a discussion
about how objects are used to serve the propaganda
machines of states and commercial interests, but
as an isolated statement it achieves little other
than to titillate our sense of moral outrage.
The photo of a cheap souvenir depicting the statue
of Venus that appears on the facing page sits very
uncomfortably next to what was a tragic and terrifying
moment for the students at Tienanmen Square. The
commentary associated with the statue attempts to
touch upon the value of objects by briefly retelling
the story of how in 1820 the original statue of
Venus was purchased as a souvenir for $45 US. The
editorial implies this was an insignificant amount,
when in reality $45 was a great deal of money and
represented far more than a years average wage at
the time. The commentary ends with the phrase 'The
authentic cheap souvenir shown costs $17.80 at the
Louvre shop'. As readers we are invited to smile
wryly at the irony of this. I however felt the choice
of objects that appear side by side was a tasteless
editorial decision. This is just one of many instances
that shows an insensitivity to the placement of
Introduction by Peter Gabriel sets the scene
'...by our objects you will know us'. Perhaps
a little, but not wholly, and this is were the
book falls well short of fulfilling its potential.
There's no doubt 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1'
and 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 2' set the mind
working, but their continual flitting from one
subject to the next with short 'blasts of evidence'
that support a point here, an observation there,
undermines the book's overall effectiveness.
Objects reflect society and our personal worlds.
There are many occasions we view unfamiliar
objects as threatening or amusing, but at all
times they are significant, despite our proclamations
all for dealing with serious subject matters, but
I feel editors and writers have a responsibility
to ensure these issues are covered in a balanced
and more complete fashion than the superficial moralistic
tone the books so often conveys.
The editorial appears confused in its aims. Are
these books light hearted views of our object world,
or a serious political commentary that takes objects
as the starting point for further moral and political
discussion? No doubt the editors would say they're
both, but in this I feel they've failed. Given the
high volume of objects featured in the books that
are used for serious comment, the editors needed
to show far more respect of cultural differences
and practices rather than attempting to amuse. Objects
are only funny when viewed in context, it's our
own context that makes them that way...
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
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