{ object politics }


What value a soul? Celebrated artists likely put heart and soul into their works; while colonial “curios” such as shrunken Māori heads resonate with their own ancestors with mana (spiritual power) / soulfulness. Souls, death and meaning are intimately entwined in object valuation. Appraised based on our feeling, sense and knowledge, the worth generated by narrative separates items from original constituent materiality. What matter matters? How matters shift – in space, perception, importance – and even how an assemblage of matter can become different kinds of objects. Object identity as dependent on conceptualisation as any other sign or signification, so therefore mutable. This evokes an object’s impermanence; an ethical lens on the vast fallibilities of the rampant capitalism which led to the inevitable atrocities of colonialism, slavery and oppression.
What are the shadow politics of our stuff? The curation of our clothes, paintings, knick-knacks, ornaments, treasures… How is their value arranged, agreed, heightened and vacated, by institutions, governments and different peoples? How can these market economics, an icon of modernity, be profaned? What details expose their connections to decoloniality? We are interested in the ways in which objects could help to resist and challenge those structures and narratives.
From the repatriation of human remains and the restitution of artifacts, to the preservation of cultural heritage and waste colonialism, in our hosted sessions we addressed a wide range of issues, whilst shifting the focus of the conversation from a Eurocentric standpoint to a non-European perspective. Our collective research interest can be described as “Object Politics”[1]. In our work, however, we focus less on the things themselves than on the contexts to which they relate. We examine the ways in which objects are circulated and used in the creation and maintenance of relationships, ideologies, political structures, hierarchies, and different forms of inequality and violence in the world; how objects inform our understanding of reality and systems of value.

[1] We borrowed this term from: “Object Politics”, The Funambulist: Politics of Space and Bodies 06 (2016)

Olya Zovskaya, Robin Dingemans, Stefan Fuchs