A wave of objects inhabited the gallery in Portia Munson’s Flood, at the Disjecta Contemporary Arts Center. Mostly plastic, some metal, others paper, and yet still others, constructed from material that is harder to parse. But all of them, blue. They were blue things. In their unevenness, their jumbled edges, stacked and piled together, in their mass and totality, they were blue.
There are many ways that we organize our things. At different times, the various forms of gravity in our societies capture the objects in our orbits in different ways. We sort our things based on value, or we arrange them based on their use to us. And then we complicate those systems with other sub-categories: is a value of exchange, or a value of personal affinity and emotion? Is is a use based on having it accessible, like a tool; or is a use of having it present, like a piece of furniture?
It is easy to pick up an object in my house and say what that particular object means to me. But what about picking up two objects? Do I have to speak of them in relation to each other? Or do I only consider them individually? At what point do the gravity of objects create a “third body problem,” in which we stop being the center around which they rotate, and they begin to relate to each other as much or more?
It’s easy to look at the objects that were in Flood and say that they are garbage. Refuse— the objects that lost their usefulness to someone, and so they became available as found materials for art. Overwhelmingly, they are plastic, which is our age’s idiom of disposability, regardless of how degradable they might be. Packaging is the new avatar of limited utility. Once packaging was finely crafted, from wood and glass. But now it represents a shell, meant to be cracked and discarded once the contents are consumed. But that is not all that made up the Flood. Kitchen wares, toys, fashion items, tools, decorations, things meant to be art themselves… things that were the packaging for much more indistinct items, like ourselves.
The contents of the Flood were themselves indistinct, blurring into each other. The bright blue that was once meant to make them distinguishable and appealing on a store shelf now serves to make them a morass. Not a unified cloud, but certainly no longer individual. Like flotsam and jetsam, washed into fluid motion in their static myriads, they become a new thing, that must be dealt with as a whole, neverending, always extending further along the shoreline between us and the tossing oceans of our objectified lives.
How many of the objects that were in Flood might have been mine at some point, before I casually disgarded them? How many of the objects were literally mine? I cannot say. There is no way I could identify a particular sponge, an individual bottle of washing liquid, a blue… I don’t even know what that blue-item is. It sits there, among the other items in the horde, and I couldn’t say if I’ve seen it before, or even used something similar. It has passed beyond object, to become only blue.