Heavy and Sticky Things

On a bi-weekly basis, the ideas proposed below will be discussed, expanded, and unpacked by a number of voices, angles, positions and geographies, the text as a whole unfolding over time. This is but the beginning of a broader field of thought and discussion, an object of an intimacy that is our own.

Think of a sticky object; what it picks up on its surface “shows” where it has traveled and what it has come into contact with. You bring your past encounters with you when you arrive.

-Sarah Ahmed

For the occasion of “What’s Love Got To Do with It: Affect, Interactivity and the Haptic,” a symposium organized by ICP-Bard MFA candidates in conjunction with MA candidates from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, participants were encouraged to bring, as a suggested entrance ‘fee’, an object that holds a personal or intimate significance. These items were scanned and compiled along with brief descriptions of their attachment by those who offered them. This action was a fitting counterpart to the conversations that took place during the symposium between a variety of artists, curators, performers, writers and academics, who rose questions around the role that love, intimacy, desire, and physical proximity play in our creation of, interaction with, and relationship to art and objects.

In looking through these objects and the descriptions offered by symposium participants, questions emerged concerning the ways in which these objects come to accrue value distinctly determined by love, emotion, memory, intimacy, and loss, rather than the financial. The questions evoked by these collected objects, as well as some of our own, will be examined as part of a multivocal, written exchange. To begin, we wish to consider for a moment the way in which time functions to shape what it is these objects come to represent for their holders. And, reflecting an ongoing dialogue between the authors, how can this relationship and complex play of time come forth for us through the image of the Dutch still life?

still lifeRachel Ruysch Still Life

In the Netherlandish still life tradition of the seventeenth century, the flower holds a preeminent position. Often, the flowers that appear here could appear together nowhere else but the frame, limited as they were in life by time or distance. In a single image, a tulip, an iris, a poppy, a rose blooms. They gather here, regardless of the season. For the viewer of the still life alone, they present their silken petals through fall, winter, spring, and summer. This is as life should be, one perhaps muses. Ideal. Impossible. Still. A living bouquet lasts for but a moment. (Longer with water and vodka.) But not in a painting. A painting takes you back; a painting takes you forward. The muddy rot of time will never touch this tulip’s lips.

The representation of inherently perishable luxury items such as rare and exotic flowers in the Dutch still life acts as a visual signifier – a shorthand for an in-place system of values indicating imperial power, global trade, scientific development, and the presentation of material wealth. In addition, flowers were of interest not only for their beauty and object-commodity status (speculative, circulatable, purchasable, sellable) but were also rich in symbolism and moral value. These vanitas paintings reminded always of the transience of materialities, even as they sought to display them.

Today still, the value of an object is generally attributed to its material or monetary worth, importance, or usefulness. Commodity status and functionality organize our attachments to and desire for things.  But what about the value that accrues around objects we love and hold close to us? Our relationships with things appear to transcend the operatives of capital and use-value, turning instead to the affective. Like the flower, something heavier is at work in the coveted object – a weight that surpasses the rationalism of price and exchange.

What of this weight and time? Within the impossible portrait of the Netherlandish still life, time becomes flattened. As we remember, various seasons exist at once. An idealism resists the observed laws of nature, time, death, morality. An orange or a blue wards off their rust, keeps these consistent unravelings at bay. And yet, our very impulse to present the impossible, to summon a flower in the winter, reminds one more than ever of the object’s imminent and unavoidable decay. Behind two flowers that meet in a pewter vase, each respectively off season, is the mark of the momento mori, the picture at once preserving the life of flowers eternally and reminding us of time’s passing and the transience of life.


The necklace my grandmother wore everyday – she left it to me.

Thus the bouquet depicts a temporality at once flat and multiple, signaling a nod to the privilege of money even as it points to it’s always inevitable obsolescence.  Objects we covet, on the other hand, accumulate layers of time, emotions, and affect, all serving to inscribe the object with malleable, evolving, and contingent meaning. This is how objects become heavy. Here we see the coveted thing hold a similar temporal multiplicity and the tendency to hold the idealism of memory over the laws of linear time, carrying with them specters of the past who echo into the present. Like the seasons, all memories exist here in the present, in the touching and devotion to the object.

Their surfaces, too, have the potential to become marked, physically reflecting this passage of time and touch. Not only are they heavy, they are sticky as well, carrying with them the past and accumulating the imprint of the now. As physical closeness and contact allow one to touch the past, to feel the contours of a memory, these objects become worn. The marks – of time, of wear, of love – hold a different relationship to value than the common object. Unlike a commodity which decreases in value when dented, damaged, tarnished, or ceases its functional use, the mark of time passing has a different relationship to use value and instead is a reflection of another value entirely. A value that often prizes a dent, a fingerprint, an irregularity over uniform exactness. These marks remind that an object too has a life, its own process from genesis to end, its own narrative. A momento mori, like our flowerpiece? A reminder that broken things can work, and still things can still die.



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