In this separation process, there is a quantifying of identifiable real bodies, marked as other still but established as existing. This acknowledgment is based on the physicality -- in other words, on the mass of what is present. A physical body is a distinguishable construction of matter, contained within a distinguishable boundary. This matter moves together, belongs together. Bodies can be the same, in every way except for their place, but are still identified as separate and can therefore be counted. Part of this identifying process becomes understanding a body's function and purpose.
Everything one sees, feels and therefore experiences is felt through these corporeal means and these means alone. The body is an inescapable “thing” as one will never know a different body, a different perspective or a different way of understanding. It is an inescapable vessel built of all one’s histories, personal truths and even corporeal identity; therefore, is the body a burden?
“...the body functions as a “pitiless place” that prohibits movement, if only because one cannot move without it.”
It is an undeniable human tendency to unify everything under the premise of what one experiences and as a consequence then separate one’s self” from everything else. Recognition of this reality sets a precedent for considering, although it is impossible to recognize fully, or theorizing as to what the being as other might entail. But this hypothetical in actuality can only really be a reflection of oneself as again, the body is an inescapable place where the self resides. And still there is a searching for that which is outside the reach, the grasp and only though this grappling with things that exist out of bounds can the possibility for potentials be extended. I cannot help but want to recognize that so much must exist outside of my own perceptions. I look for comfort in a truth that things cannot be as they seem to me, as I can only think to know so much. And so I wonder, can the only way to create new knowledge be working to understand through being as different bodies?
“...the body’s morphology does not...script either identification or desire, and those who understand bodily morphology to be constitutive of a truth...
would do well to take seriously some of the ways in which... [it] is currently being lived”.
I think of all materials, surfaces and forms in relation to the body; whether it be by the way that they embody corporeal qualities or in the ways in which they speak to/call for physical engagement. I see skinness in color, texture and metaphorical function but also in longing for and responsiveness to touch. For example, unglazed ceramic remains fragile as there exists the potential for seepage, fingerprints and markings. Like skin that covers the body, it reacts to its environment as it is a porous surface. Through fabricating these connections between object and body, my aim is to engage by abstracted simulation.
THE OBJECT AND THE THING
Object- a. something material that may be perceived by the senses
b. something mental or physical toward which thought, feeling, or action is directed
Thing- a. an object or entity not precisely designated or capable of being designated
A group of objects find themselves abandoned in a cave somewhere in the landscape of Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. They’re a cohort of seemingly banal things, consisting of Can o’Beans, Dirty Sock and Spoon. Alone for a short while they ponder their fate, fearful of what time may subject them to. They are startled by the arrival of Painted Stick and Conch Shell. As a magical duo of sorts, the kind that has existed in the world for ages, they convince the group to join them on their travels. After a ritual of energy exchange the objects become mobile, to a rate or speed detectable by humans. And so begins their epic journey to Jerusalem through which humanitarian truths, the seven veils, will slowly fall away one by one and become revealed to the objects.
“The inertia of objects is deceptive...We regard the objects that polka-dot our daily lives as if they were rigid, totally predictable solids, frozen
inferiorly in time and space. Yet, how can we be so sure that we know what things are doing when we aren’t looking at them?”
-Skinny Legs and All
While it is fantasy that such actual mobility is inherent within objects, as in Tom Robbins’ novel Skinny Legs and All, the metaphor for their lives outside of human perception and consequently their existence, not only in relation to one another but also to what is imbued into them, brings about questions of autonomy. Objects become vessels that are filled through the agency of the viewer, but at their core they exist with the same ontological footing as all other things, human as well as nonhuman.
Even one’s willingness to entertain Robbin’s writings explicitly parallels the “overmining” of things that Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) rejects. Overmining refers to the tendency to qualify objects based on human perceptions, and undermining or reductivism refers to reducing objects to atoms, molecules, etc. This text at the same time is both congruent and disjointed from OOO theory in that it acknowledges objects as being outside of our perception but also elevates things to a fantastical, false reality.
Although fetishized, I do not think of my work as objectification, but rather as creating autonomous bodies. The objects I make are independent in their own right, as they exist outside of one’s own perception. As an anthropocentric being though, one can only work to see ideas as they center on one’s understanding of oneself. Therefore if all objects, human and nonhuman, exist equally as ontological beings, then all that is imbued is a reflection not of the actual object in question but rather is a telling solely of oneself.
The word “thing” carries with it a certain ambiguity, but also specificity. It is a word that is used when the right words cannot be found, but it also becomes the right word in a moment. To declare something a “thing” is to allow it to be in existence in its own right, not to be forced into being something that it is not while still acknowledging its presence. The word “object” or “objecthood” on the other hand refers to certain qualities that are recognized or, more accurately, created by the perceiver; these are established through pertinence. Through working to understand communicative affordances and perceived functionality as well as use value, there is the possibility for things to transition into becoming objects or objects to transition into becoming things. This negotiation of existence and classification hinges on one’s comfort in placing objects and things within what one would believe to be their respective categories. Where, then, in this creation of knowledge is there allowance for other and outside to exist? Does it simply stay within the “thingness” of things? Is this where certainty dies and the median is made? Is it possible for objects to also exist with the same fluidness? If one were to consider object-body relations and the limitations and projection of self, then perhaps it could be possible for things and objects to exist in a more congruent and similar place of being.
“The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing
really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation.”
What is it that one searches for within objects? Why project aspects of oneself onto and into them? I ask myself if it is like looking in the mirror, or looking on the hook, shelf or table. I wonder if by representing humanness, embodied within inanimate things, could one more fully and aptly experience the humanity within oneself?
“We can only be hunters of objects, and must even be non-lethal hunters, since objects can never be caught. The world is filled primarily not with
electrons or human praxis, but with ghostly objects withdrawing from all human and inhuman access, accessible only by allusion and seducing us by
means of allure. Whatever we capture, whatever table we sit at or destroy, is not the real table.”
-The Third Table
In my thoughts I am searching for Graham Harman’s table. I know I will never find it, and this keeps me content.
For an object to occupy a hand, a fist, is an existence that commands the body’s attention and as a consequence renders it devoted; to occupy a hand renders it useless for any other function at that time. It draws together an intentional, undeniable, non-passive bond between object and body (or body and body). As opposed to a supplemental existence, the kind that denotes an object as decorative or superfluous, a tool’s relationship with the body is one in which it directs the body in real space and time.
In exploring function as metaphor, the objects I create reference the familiar, therefore informing their affect. I work to understand the influence that they possess; is it really we who shape their existence or do they also dictate ours? The body activates these things as much as they in turn reflect it; they lead and guide the body in more than just their discovery. I make reference to actual objects and systems to utilize their function and purpose as a metaphorical gesture. For example, the poetic nature of the hinge is its ability to bring objects together and also to repel them apart, still linked of course, but as far removed from one another as they can be. In this repetitive motion there is a searching for position, a relation to one another, something that is always shifting or adjusting.
As an investigation of affordances I make objects resembling tools that often question utilities or ideas of function/non-function. Like a prosthesis, a tool becomes the body, becomes an extension of the body’s capabilities. It becomes the way through which one interacts with the world, with space and with other objects. A tool translates needs and desires and channels the energy that one extends into it.
“Ideally incorporated not “into” or “on” but “as” subject, the prosthetic becomes an object only when a mechanical or social problem pushes it
obtrusively into the foreground of the user’s consciousness - much as in the manner in which a blister on a heel takes on an objective presence that
is something other even through the body’s own bodily fluid and stretched skin constitute it.”
-A Leg to Stand On
Is a tool’s existence hinged upon its ability to perform and be useful? If it is an object, which accomplishes a job, a task, it therefore serves a purpose and a function. What then is to be made of an object that does not do what its proposed purpose is or an object whose intentions are difficult to read? When one is denied expectation or denied performance, a new resulting opportunity for the creation of knowledge is made. Through this process one witnesses a possibility that exists other than or outside from histories that were previously constructed as truths and absolutes. A tool that thwarts expectation is one that becomes that which refuses to adhere, refuses to exist only as a thing which can be and only is one way.
Perhaps forming relationships to bodies is purpose enough. I speculate that there is potential for objects to become surrogate bodies through which one might practice intimacy, as these things become extensions of one’s own body but also hold the potential to be that with which one forms a relation (as another body).
What is a gray area? A middle ground, a safe place, an imagined or abstract one? Perhaps it is a place where potential lives, in a space which is neither here nor there. Existing within this median, possibility is sustained and time perhaps exists in its fullest, truest form. Futures and pasts are probable, in the effect that one knows them to exist in the real, but not possible as the present is all that can be in one exact moment.
In considering “the rack,” it itself holds potential as its numerous posts infer a possibility of a multitude of objects. But these possibilities are not for specific objects per se, rather it implies that it is a fixture in a space, a thing used for utility that can serve any and all needs in a moment. Like a coat rack in the closet of my parent’s house, it is there to hold any and everything one brings to it. Nothing is descript, nothing is specified; any and all potentials are possible.
If a simulation is a rendering or mimicry of a situation or a process, does this make it unreal? If the intention is to as closely compute or represent some said occurrence or thing, then does this qualify its realness? Perhaps it is necessary even still to acknowledge that the understanding of real comes from situating things within a personal frame of reference, situating or pinning things against other things to labor in understanding. But this occurrence happens through the filter of the body and the construct of self; therefore the set limitations are that which cannot be overcome but should nonetheless be recognized. This opening up, this opportunity for establishing realness in simulation is to place any and all things in equality for existence; it acknowledges their value and their potential.
“The real is something that cannot be known, only loved. This does not mean that access...is impossible, only that it must be indirect. Just as erotic
speech works when composed of hint, allusion, and innuendo rather than of declarative statements and clearly articulated propositions, and just as
jokes or magic tricks are easily ruined when each of their steps is explained, thinking is not thinking unless it realizes that its approach to objects can
only be oblique.”
-The Third Table
“How can a body be “there” if distance from the body is simultaneously suggested?” ; how can the body be called into existence when no body is present?
In practices of Drag, ideas of gender and the body are represented in cultural/physical manifestations that do not directly correlate to the actual body. Rather, identifiers and signifiers of these constructs are employed to recall corporeal means when actually confronted with its absence. Through this process there is an unveiling of these perceptions as being imitations, in so far as for the possibility for the reproduction of qualities to occur (to as closely approximate the actual) is to recognize that one’s understanding actually amounts only to the accumulation of said qualities. In other words, one’s understanding of such constructs exists by the definition of qualities that are reproduced through practice, therefore making it impossible for complexities such as body and gender identities to be fully represented by these means. Drag describes “a practice that is in no way individual but always relational”. Again, the means of one’s understanding imposes limitations and definitions onto things which are far outside one’s reach.
My objects embody physical change, exchange and potential. They live in a space, in a world that is their own, one that can work to be defined only through their being and one’s relationship to them. At times their solidarity in purpose is undermined, and at times their existence as objects is questioned. Through this opportunity is made in so far as willingness to engage is sustained. The fluidity of a “thing” hinges on its ability to be suspended within an indefinable, abstracted space, but this space is one that is more true than any and all individual constructs. I employ visuals of penetration, screens and perforations; these I feel become symbols of a sense of searching, pushing through permeable surfaces to reach and attain. I feel that they suggest a process, a film through which two sides could meet and interact. In every way these qualities are the essence of skin.
Pleasure is felt through a variety of senses, from the visual to the haptic. Encounters with things that evoke pleasure stir something within us; perhaps it is longing, satisfaction, or perhaps it is desire. Entwined with sensuality, these notions infer a pursuit -- a searching for and attaining that which is sought out. In the production of knowledge, how much does this process reflect one’s desire? And in how much of this self-projection does the need and want for relations occur? In positioning and negotiating sensual feelings towards things, especially when clear indicators or justifiers are absent, the fetish object emerges.
To fetishize is to obsess or place excessive feeling onto a thing, to imbue it with power and direction over oneself. Again, in considering one’s encounter with objects, how easily overmining happens, it could be deduced that perhaps all human(subject)-object relations are of a fetishistic nature.
I often couple and pair objects together, sometimes two of the same and other times not. This drawing of a physical relationship, possibly forced or otherwise intuitive, suggests a codependency or existence; both forms exist with the same justification of purpose and presence. There is then presented a duality, perhaps as a binary even, which places things in juxtaposition or in correlation to one another. The conversation then circles around “like” and “as,” in that one cannot be distinguished as entirely separate from the other. Even if two objects are marked as distinguishable bodies, their proximity informs or impacts one’s perception. This allows aspects to become imbued into objects which do not independently embody those attributes on their own. It creates a context in which one can understand an alternative for that object, to consider the object through a slightly different lens. It opens up possibility for that thing and it allows it to extend and reach beyond its initial place of being in the world.
This relationship is also true of things that live within a queer space, a space that exists outside. One’s tendency is to draw connections between these entities to what one thinks to know even without the physical presence of the secondary thing for comparison, as it exists only in the mind.
A table lives many lives -- in the home, at the office, in the store, in the morgue. And for each of these lives there exists a different and complicated body to object (or body to body) relationship. To consider the table within the home, it becomes the gathering place, the meeting place, a place where relationships not only between the singular body and object are shaped but also a place where relationships between multiple bodies are negotiated. It is the catalyst for change, and its visual anatomy becomes an indicator of change. Table leaves live entirely different lives when stored away and divorced from their usual function and place, but their reemergence suggests the potential for happenings. The relationship to such objects, then, is established first upon their visual existence, and then secondly based on their physical presence, and therefore their ability to change the spaces we inhabit.
“What would a truly democratic encounter between truly equal beings look like, what would it be - can we even imagine it.”
-The Democracy of Objects
In encountering an object, a bond/relationship is established - between it and its surroundings (including other objects), the viewer and object (physically), as well as the object in the context of the viewer’s conceptualization of it. As much as this idea is housed within the cyclical relationship between the work and viewer, I also see myself yearning to be inserted as a tertiary component of this interaction. As the composer of such simulations, I cannot ignore that the products of these formed relationships must mirror also my own projection of self, again onto and through the objects that I make. What must my own desires be to create these entities and then work to distinguish them as autonomous? Perhaps it is a yearning, a wishing for them what I would wish for myself -- a freedom in being.
There is a potential productiveness to overmining objects, in that through this process of distorting relationships the projection of self allows for one to better experience one’s own humanity and consequently intimacy. Imbuing or personifying objects to such a degree creates a scenario in which one is able to act out humanistic qualities, therefore creating a simulation. Regardless of its truthfulness as a reality, the attachments and feelings that become associated to particular objects feel nonetheless real when personally experienced -- in the moment they are real to the individual.
Even the creation of bodies comes from the intimate relations between bodies; an event of possibility, potential and exchange. This extends beyond human-to-human relations to make bodies and also includes human-body-to-object relations. Within a creative making process there is a negotiation between maker and object/material. There is a push and pull between as well as a listening and reacting to the other.
THE STILL LIFE
In the absence of the haptic, one is defaulted to reading objects and situations; experiencing still yes, but ultimately physical engagement becomes moving around and through a thing to see it. In this reading of object as image, form and context, size and shape, as well as "things" in relation to other "things" or spaces become visual indicators of content. Likened to the traditional practice of the “Still Life,” one must work to understand, to read objects without touch, in order to tease out meaning. Through this process one must acknowledge that nonhuman relations are as much at play as human perception in the distortion of objects. Furthermore, one must recognize that fully experiencing and seeing objects as their whole (visually or haptically) is impossible. As things exist in the round, as in they take up space and hold a presence, one can see only a small partial glimpse at a time. In the very moment that I turn a thing around to see its other side, the part once facing me is hidden from view and its known existence to me now lives only in memory; it lives for me through the filter of my own body.
What can a Still Life tell us? An invitation to engage. A staging for a specific event. An offering on a platter…Or perhaps simply something about ourselves.
“...the image is more about the viewer or the viewer’s relationship to what is represented- the possibilities and limits of producing knowledge and
means of seeing- than of what there is to see in and of itself”
The domestic is a space that one recognizes, a space in which one feels safe and can easily understand their body existing comfortably within. The home is where daily mundane life takes place and therefore where reality lives; the home is an environment made up of familiar objects. In juxtaposition to this space of ease exists the clinical space, a space where the body is under scrutiny; it is questioned as an able body, a clean body and recognized as the inescapable “thing.” In this place the familiar is turned unfamiliar as safe confines are turned inside out and attention is drawn to aspects of the body that are not so easily acknowledged. In this distinction there is a partitioning of space, a marking out of the communicative functionality of these areas. There is a directness in this division which aims to establish understanding, but one must question if this perpetuation of said understanding is productive as it also limits one to create a new frame of reference in which to consider these spaces (and consequently the body).
“All our possessions speak about us in silent ways, often revealing those things about us that are most secret - and that we would prefer to keep
But both of these places, domestic and clinical, are in fact embedded into one another. Non-porous surfaces, like tiles, sinks and chrome, find themselves not only in the clinic but also in bathrooms, kitchens and utility areas in the home. And waiting rooms become living spaces, areas where bodies exist in attempt to achieve comfort. In examining these places, they become one another or embody aspects of each other allowing ideas surrounding the body to better exist. In an attempt to closer represent, in the round, all that a body could be, one is confronted with an approximation that perhaps more accurately reflects the body’s relation to the self.
When objects live within a context or within a space, can the absence of them be felt? What determines if something is missing? Is it through seemingly missing parts, incomplete couples, imprints left in settled dust? All of these situations still infer that something is present, whether it be a remainder of other objects or the silhouette. Do missing things belong only in memories, or do the remnants actually become “things” themselves?
Emily Culver is an object maker originally from rural Pennsylvania. She attended Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia where she received her Bachelors of Fine Art in Metals/Jewelry/CAD-CAM in 2012. In 2017, she received her Masters of Fine Art in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Culver’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in North America and Europe. In 2017 she was the recipient of a Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship and an Artist in Residence position at Arrowmont for the 2017-2018 calendar year.
emilyculverstudio (at) gmail.com
CV available here:
IN COMPANY OF THE THIRD TABLE
The body is the identifiable way in which we comprehend and the lens through which experiences are made. We recognize ourselves as bodies and through this process of identification, anything housed outside of our understanding of ourselves then becomes thought of as other bodies -- distinguishable other bodies. We draw together “things” that we think to know, as they fall under the umbrella of the personal, and therefore in this unification all else that exists is consequently grouped and understood as “other” -- as being outside of our own capabilities of full perception. The acknowledgment of this divide happens only through first recognizing our own being as such, and second through the recognizing of ourselves as bodies different and divided from everything else. We know that the other cannot be us, therefore we know that we in turn cannot be the other, although recognition of such is made.
Body- a. a mass of matter distinct from other masses
b. something that embodies or gives concrete reality to a thing
What is a body and what qualifies a “real” body?