Saturday, February 12, 2011

What We Live With

Dear Reader:
I promise to read something else. Rather, I promise to blog about something other than what I've read in the NYTimes, lest you begin to suspect that this is my only source of information/stimulation outside of the cappuccino and Excedrin combo to which I often also refer, and, alas, have resorted to again this morning as I also munched on toast and read the aforementioned publication in the predawn light (it turns out, apparently, that when one


gets up way too early on purpose, going to bed just a little earlier and hoping to sleep just a little later does not work. Wide awake at 5:40. Drat.).

In fact, for days, I have had in mind to write a post about something else, somewhere far away, that has nothing to do with some things, but here it was and here I am, brain not quite in gear enough for that post, but with enough wherewithall (these are all puns, people..) to post less of a post than notes for one, so here we are: the Magazine, which I usually resist until later on Saturday and then only for the puzzle at first, h

as a brief article on a blog phenomenon I had been unaware of, i.e. people posting photos of their stuff, but their artfully arranged things. Rob Walker, the columnist, offers several observations and a sound working theory of why this is happening, wherein, again, I learn a vocabulary word, or rather a new use for an old one, curation:

...the most satisfying examples now often depict more workaday stuff, treated with an unusual level of observatory respect; they frequently echo the “humble master pieces” featured in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of that name several years ago: just as that show prodded viewers to reconsider the paper clip or the matchstick as “marvels of design,” these (humble) blogs recontextualize things most people ignore. Perhaps some of us are in more of a mood to accept beauty in the everyday, rather than aspire to the latest gleaming luxury.

And then there’s the way this stuff is arranged. There’s certainly nothing naturalistic about it; these are practically inventories. It has become a cliché to talk of “curation” as the great skill of the info-saturated online world, but probably what matters here is the overt display of that skill — the de facto announcement that someone is in charge. After too many years when stuff seemed to rule many lives, these things have been culled, sorted and mastered.

Not that I don't suspect that these photographers aspire to the MOMA ideal (and even an exhibition or book contract of their own), and not that I don't on some level find Walker's control theory compelling. In fact, the highbrow (if that is what it is) intellectualization (ditto) of the whole simplification movement ---or, let's be kinder--- its transformation from merely throwing stuff out to arranging what one has in order to enjoy it anew is refreshing, but the example blogs (see below) that Walker cites appear to me as cataloguing than curation. Yes, it is a kind of artful cataloguing, but this is what catalogues are nowadays, and I mean certain mail order catalogues, not exhibition catalogues. I confess, up front, I have not stopped the onslaught filling my physical mailbox, in part because of the visual pleasure of, say, the Garnet Hill, Sundance, even J.Jill catalogues (this is still an ad-free, unsponsored blog. I merely state the truth. Deal). I shop online for these things, if at all, but I do enjoy an afternoon cup of tea with a slew of new catalogues, the ones which arrange a rather minimalist number of items per page, quite artfully photographed, with descriptions that do mimic those other, i.e. museum collection catalogues: "unique shapes overlap to create modern artisanal styles;" "the long shirt;" etc. There is a cataloguing impulse/device/gimmick out there in the blogosphere, what I ate, what I knitted, what I photographed, cats in sinks; even Stuff White People Like is, at root, a catalogue. Were I to go all academic about this, there would be a lot to say here about the reinscription and performance of display, i.e. how it has been reappropriated and repurposed (optimistic) and how life is now structured by advertising techniques that we are supposed to be savvy and ironic enough to recognize (pessimistic, though not unrelated). The columnist notes, although he does not use this term, that the objects in the blogs he examines are decontextualized (he says "recontextualized") from everyday life: grouped against neutral backgrounds, a collection of bobbins or measuring spoons offer themselves as interesting in se ipsis, but one gets tired of walking with Certeau, so to speak, no matter where the walk goes. So I am less interested in this manipulation of the quotidian as a socio-anthropological phenomenon, clear on the fact that things arranged well give us pleasure (neatness counts, goes the aphorism: you'll like/use your stuff if you can find it, says common sense; you'll appreciate what you have if you maintain it, says mom, yes, sew the buttons on, etc.), than the groupings or arrangments that arise in context. Yes, I suppose this is the backbone of every decorating magazine and even of a certain spirituality (remember the "home altars" movement ?), but I do not mean faux context or creating a context (spiritual space, e.g.). After having read the column, I just poked my head up and peeked around: what have I bothered to arrange, I thought, and aside from the visual pleasure, what might it say ? That's all: lots of writing here to serve as an excuse for the first thing I thought of, my rather transparently readable arrangement of glassware, stored in, as is probably obvious, what should be a liquor cabinet, pictured at the start of this post. Enjoy. Let me know.

Blogs mentioned in the NYTimes column: A Collection A Day 2010; Things Organized Neatly

1 comment:

John B. said...

I like it. The light hovers among the glasses like a spectral presence. Dionysus? Bacchus? Or (more likely?) someone a bit less raucous? I mean, this is you (or, more precisely, my sense of you, based on my reading of what you have cared to share about yourself via your blog) we're talking about.

As for the larger question of what this trend of cataloguing (and you're right to make the distinction you do between it and curating) might say about us, that's a harder question. If it's a kind of exhibitionism, it's awfully modest. Maybe it's a rewriting of the memento mori sub-genre of still lifes--that is, the objects are meant to evoke thoughts about a living individual rather than more abstract thoughts about our shared mutability as human beings.

I don't know. People like showing off stuff they own. There are 18th-century paintings of rich people's salons, their walls covered floor to ceiling with the paintings they own. Yes: paintings of paintings--there's no other point to them. Blogging provides a much cheaper medium that allows more people to indulge that same tendency. It's a harmless indulgence, mostly. Probably.