Objects & Their Stories

There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. -Robert Evans

His Story

In the summer of 2009 I backpacked through Nepal with Lucas. You know he lives in Indonesia now? Java. Anyway we had a few friends doing conditioning for Everest and we figured how fucking often does that happen so we went to meet them. I miss being able to just pick up and go like that, man. I mean now with the kids and everything. And Jas -one look from her and I cave on pretty much anything. She has me wrapped around her finger. My boy too but with Jas it’s different. Anyway I’m getting off topic. We were starting off in the Kathmandu valley -yeah, I know. I’ve wondered about the people we met there so often. Anyway we were starting off in Kathmandu and doing the Annapurna Circuit and we stayed in a series of Teahouses. We met a lot of people in those Teahouses. Anyway, one of the Teahouses near the beginning of the hike was selling these khukuri. That’s what they’re called. I remember choosing the one I gave you because of the coins on the front of it. There are three of them right? And then another emblem that I don’t remember. I remember thinking this was such a beautiful piece of artistry. And I bought one for you and one for my sister, but I used the one I gave to you because I figured you’d be more interested in something that seemed authentic. You were like that.

My Story

Oh my god I remember being so nervous! When you told me that you had a present for me and it was a little weird? And I remember at that time I had just started dating Cyril and I knew he was going to be at that party on Bleeker too, remember? And so I remembered thinking Ok I should probably go off to the side with Peter to get this gift, like what if it was lingerie or drugs or something, and then worrying that if Cy saw me with you off to the side with another guy then he’d think I wasn’t interested in him. You know how relationships are in the beginning -every move is like, crucial. Anyway, I remembered not knowing how to address that when we met up, and then when we finally did you just like, dropped your backpack in the middle of the street and like, handed me this thing wrapped in what looked like blood-spattered cloth. I mean if I didn’t know you I would have thought you were disposing of a murder weapon. And people on the street probably thought you were. And I think that’s when you told me that it was from fruit that you had cut when you were hiking, and you didn’t want to clean it because you thought it was more authentic that way and I remember thinking that wasn’t really the reason why and that you were just lazy. But anyway fortunately Cyril was just paying attention to his French friends and not really paying attention to our interaction anyway, and I remember being thankful and then mildly annoyed that he didn’t care that I was spending time with this tanned good-looking Bermudian guy who had just handed me a knife in the middle of Bleeker street on the way to a party.

The Museum Story

Khukri, sometimes Khukuri – Nepalese. Wood, brass, steel.

The kukri or khukuri (Nepali: खुकुरी) is a Nepalese knife with an inwardly curved blade, similar to a machete, used as both a tool and as a weapon in Nepal. Traditionally it was, and in many cases still is, the basic utility knife of the Nepalese people. It is a characteristic weapon of the Nepalese Army, the Royal Gurkha Rifles of the British Army, the Assam Rifles, the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army, and of all Gurkha regiments throughout the world, so much so that some English-speakers refer to the weapon as a “Gurkha blade” or “Gurkha knife”. The khukuri often appears in Nepalese heraldry and is used in many traditional rituals such as wedding ceremonies. This kuri appears to have originated in the early 21st century, possibly 2009. The residue that appears on both sides of the blade is deep red in color and mildly sticky in texture. Upon first appraisal it appeared that the knife had been used as a weapon of war, but materials testing revealed that the substance is in fact fruit pulp, perhaps from an anaar (pomegranate) or anjir (fig). Source.

Additional Resources Leslie Bedford’s Storytelling: The Real Work of Museums and Chapter 3 of What We Made: Conversations on Art & Social Cooperation: “Museum, Education, and Cooperation: Memory of Surfaces, Ernesto Pujol, Artist and David Henry, Museum Educator”

When Grandpa Died

Exercise Create a short sound piece or story in 2-4 parts. It can offer different perspectives on a single subject, or use multiple voices or different components to complete a single narrative. Use either approach in creating your short audio “story.” 

I chose the subject of my grandfather’s death because I am interested in the ways that we choose to remember traumatic events -what sticks out, what gets erased, what everyone remembers and what memories become secrets only we recall.

I have listened to the story of my grandfather’s death again and again. What surprises me is both how differently each of my grandfather’s children (my aunts and uncles) frame their experience, and how my grandfather’s final wishes resonated with all of them.

Mostly I am interested in how our memories of a particular story evolve over time, and whether they become convoluted, or only more pure.

Non-sequential narrative

Process

I conducted four separate interviews that were ~ 1 hour long each. None of the people being interviewed were aware of the topics discussed prior to the interview. After interviewing I sketched a rough storyboard and edited clips based on themes identified and the time stamps I noted as the interviews were being conducted.

Collective Narrative: Capturing The (Un)Dead & Why It’s Not Weird

A selected family portrait from Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America, currently at The American Folk Art Museum.

In a world where everyone walks around with his thumb in his mouth, we don’t need to explain why a given individual has his thumb in his mouth. In a world where no one does this…we must explain why a given individual does have his thumb in his mouth.

-Roger Schank, Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence 

A photograph of a photographer manipulating a corpse in order to capture it in a “lifelike” state. Note the head brace.

Posthumous portraiture reached its heyday within…the “cult of domesticity.” In this familial structure, children came to be regarded as temporary gifts who returned to their first and better home in death.

-The American Folk Art Museum, Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America

A posthumous daguerréotype of a young child with their toy drum.
Gravestone for Samuel Bradbury, Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America at The American Folk Art Museum. A finger pointing upward symbolizes a path to heaven.

PROCEDURE

The current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum is curiously titled “Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America.” The collection largely consists of the portraits painted to preserve members of dead family members alongside their still living relatives, in mid-19th century America. This was a relatively normal, and fairly aspirational procedure for most families. These portraits became the last living remnant of what many families came to expect as normal death at a young age.

SYMBOLISM & COLLECTIVE NARRATIVE

As this procedure spread, the symbolism that came to be represented in the painted portraits flourished, to the extent that any who saw the portraits would be able to identify which of its subjects were alive or dead, in some cases how the child (or adult) died, and precisely what the symbols stood for. This easily recognized “cult of domesticity” became a narrative of its own -entirely normal and even aspirational.

NORMALCY

After the painted portrait came the daguerreotype, which, because of its ability to capture any image with such precision, became almost immediately popular. With the new technology came a new set of necessary skills, most of which are described unflinchingly throughout the exhibition. Methods include propping eyeballs open with teaspoons and draining corpses of their liquids, and manipulating the limbs of corpses as they were held by grieving mothers. This was not a job for the scientist as one might suspect, but rather the responsibility for the portrait taker himself. The ability to so unflinchingly describe, and even recommend (“Use teaspoons for their eyeballs! It really works!) these methods can be forgiven with the context of the time, one where the ephemeral nature of life, the widespread belief in a heavenly God, the mournfulness of the family and the need for commemoration converge.

The Hourly Comic: All You Need Is Context

Exercise:  Following the Hourly Comic format, pick one day of the week and document every hour of it. Documentation might be done with drawing, photography, collage, sound, text, or any combination thereof. At the end of the hour, take a moment to reflect upon what happened.

Keel’s Simple Diary Volume One, in cherry red.

One day several years ago when I was feeling particularly ambitious about record-keeping and preserving my own memories, I purchased a Keel’s Simple Diary from the Taschen store on Green Street. I had never been particularly good at following through with diary-keeping and, despite the “simple prompt” format of the Keel’s diary, this was no exception. After approximately three months of fastidious diary entry, the exercise lost its luster and I was done.

Daily prompts from my Keel’s Simple Diary, that I was never able to maintain.

For the purpose of this exercise, I decided to resurrect my long-forgotten diary for a more frequent experience. My Hourly Comic would record the following:

  1. A page of prompts (normally meant to summarize a whole day) from my new old Keel’s diary.
  2. An answer to the question, “If you had to define your hour by one color, what would that color be?
  3. Two photos; one taken of myself, and one taken of whatever was directly in front of me.

Below is a complete (ie, fulfills the above criteria) record of my waking hours on Wednesday, January 25th 2017.

Hour 1

Hour 2

Hour 3

Hour 4

Hour 5

Hour 6

 

Hour 7

Hour 8

Hour 9

Hour 10

Hour 11

Hour 12


Hour 13

Hour 14

Hour 15

Hour 16

Hour 17

Findings:

EGO  The most prominent finding, I’m embarrassed to admit, was that I absolutely made decisions based on the fact that I’d be documenting them. I’m not saying that my behavior changed completely -all of my actions were essentially predetermined outside of the exercise- but if I needed that extra push to go to the gym, knowing that I would be displaying my life to at least three of my classmates was enough to push me to not go home and be a lazy fuck and watch Netflix on my couch while chowing down on Cheetos or some other delicious thing I’m not supposed to like.

VANITY Most days aren’t dress and lipstick days for me. At least not anymore. Incidentally a day that I knew I’d be photographing myself I made damn sure I had makeup on.

EYEBROWS But seriously, what’s happening with my eyebrows.

SHAME Or, lack thereof. There was essentially no situation in which I wasn’t comfortable taking a photo of myself or what was in front of me. Even the ladies locker room at Equinox. Even at a protest that was about something much more important than my need for a selfie. I’m interested in what this says about the roll technology has taken in our life, and how it has whittled away at “appropriate behavior.” Talking to no one in particular while walking down the street is strange, until you get close enough to that “strange” person to realize they have a headset in and are talking wirelessly on their phone. Walking down the street with a “thumb in [your] mouth”, as Roger Schank notes in Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence is strange only until you are in a world where “everyone walks around with his thumb in his mouth”. Photographing oneself as a means of documentation; relentlessly capturing the world around us, is as un strange as we make it; increasingly less bizarre and directly proportionate with the amount of time we spend doing it. Constant narrative is the new normal, and excuses even the most shameless behavior. All you need is context.