Copenhagen, spring 2013. To explore stories and the significance attached to jewellery and small objects, Makers Move invited the following persons to an exchange of jewellery and portable objects: Inger Sjørslev (Anthropologist) Lars Kynde (Composer)Lene Floris (Head the National Museum o f Denmark) Morten Skriver (Author and artist) Nicole Rehne (Conservator, Museum of Copenhagen ) Ursula Andkjær Olsen (Author and poet)
In the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s novel, "The Museum of Innocence" an earring plays an important role. Together with other objects, the earring is in the centre of a sad but also jaunty poetic story about a rich man, who falls in love with a poor relative and devotes his life to collecting objects from her life. He creates a large collection of things as a substitute for his frustrated love, and among other trinkets in the collec tion are 4,213 cigarette butts that have been touched by the lips of the beloved one.
This is not the place to reveal how the story ends, but it is no secret that is possible to visit the collection of the novel. "The Museum of Innocence" has materialized. It exists in reality and can be found in Istanbul, created by the author himself, who spent years collecting the right objects. It is now the memory of a person, and a novel at one and the same time.
Pamuk’s idea is original and fascinating. When I first read that he hadactually realized the museum, I had just finished reading the novel. My reaction was a mixture of excitement and something else, which was perhaps disappointment. A great part of the joy of reading the novel had been to imagine this museum, to see it realized in my own fantasy. That pleasure was somehow lost. On the other hand, it was wonderful to see the real showcases depicted in an article about the museum, and I looked forward to visiting it.
The real and the imagined, the materia-lised, and the invisible, this is what Pamuk poetically plays with in this story. Can material objects substitute intangible human love? In the occidental tradition of thought, a basic idea is that things cannot substitute emotions. Things can be real, and they can be authentic, but compared with real feelings their degree of authen-ticity is low. Feelings are the real thing; their material expressions are not. The inner feeling is the authentic, while the meaning of the outer thing that expresses it is derived from the feeling. A person can have a strong and intimate relation-relatioship with a piece of jewellery that has been given as a gift from a beloved person, or a gift that celebrates a special event. A thing can have a special sentimental value, but it can never be a substitute for having the beloved one near you, and it cannot recreate the event
Things, whether trinkets, charms, or jewellery of that special kind associated with feelings, relations or significant events, are personal and often attributed intimate and private feelings. But at the same time, such things are social because people are social beings. The most intimate object that we carry on our body is also social – even when hidden, such as: a piece of jewellery, or a tattoo, or a particular piece of underwear. Such objects are social things, no matter how intimate they are considered. As signs, things are always social in the sense that they would be recognizable for others, if they saw them. A charm, a secret amulet is not without its social dimension, even when hidden. It will refer to something that reaches beyond the person who carries it. This could be a common belief, or it could be a sign of a relation to another person, or to magical beliefs. Magical beliefs only work when they are shared, and when known to others – the one who carries the charm or the amulet materializes the beliefs. From a phenomeno-logical perspective, one could say that such objects extend individual human bodies in ways that make them part of a common social body.
The philosophical line of thought called phenomenology has influenced how we think about things. The French philo-sopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty illustrates it with the example of a blind man who carries a stick with which he finds his way by using other senses than the visual. As human beings, we are in the world in an instant and unreflected way through our interactions with things and other human beings. However, as the blind man with his stick shows, we extend our senses out into the world by way of objects in ways that make it difficult to say where our biological bodies end, and the world that surrounds it begins. In its practice, magical work takes advantage of this by using parts of the human body such as hair, or pictures that represent a person.
A magical charm is in the same vein and is carried on the body as a representation of something else. Luck becomes part of the body that carries it. Or as an incan-tation, a symbol of the wish that it will become part of that body, that the person who carries it will have luck.
A piece of jewellery may in the same vein become part of our body and thus of ourselves, also for those of us who are neither philosophers, nor magicians. A thing’s signification in relation to a person, or an event, makes that person or event a part of us. All this may work for us in highly personal ways, but it does so only because things and symbols are ingrained with social meaning.
The way magical charms work is not so remote from how other personal objects may work. What’s in a charm is the materialized and personalized magic of the social.
This vignette is an elaboration of a text published in Danish in the author’s book “Ting i nære og fjerne verdener”, published by Aarhus Universitetsforlag, Aarhus 2013.
A peg from my washing line – and I have brought a more recent peg, this is what they look like if you buy one today. Mine is an older version, and you can see how much finer it is, they have made a small, discrete carving for the spring mechanism.
It is from my parents’ summer house, and the funny thing is that I put it in my pocket and then completely forgot about it until you asked me to bring something. I put it in my pocket one day – well, it’s 5-10 years ago now – at the end of the summer when I had been watching my mother hang up some clothes; she was about 90 years at the time, and it struck me how weathered everything was.
It is a place by the seaside where the family has come for many years – and the peg just encapsulated the entire story about everyday life there. I connect it with my mother and my first responsibility. I was a three-year-old then, and now my own child is passing me pegs when we hang clothes which is a good job and manageable at that age.
It reminds me of the whole act of hanging clothes to dry, which I still love. The very act of handling textiles, being outside in the fresh air, and the motoric aspect of it – you stretch. There is something about the mechanics of the peg – it’s extremely simple and extremely useful, it won’t break, and it can be used inside or outside the house. It’s the kind of cultural object we overlook today.
I like handling the peg and also find it a beautiful object in all its functional simplicity.
When we met Ursula she gave an example of a small ‘thingy’ which was first kept and later preserved. ‘I have chosen to be connected to this one – I have ritualised my relation to it. It is a hook, a tiny anchor, a hook everything depends on – that must be what makes it important’. Together with Ursula’s anchor, she has kept a slip of paper with the note; ‘Everything depends on it – otherwise I would not have kept it.’
First it is necessary to have kept something.
Then one may realise that something was kept.
Then one may realise that it must be significant, seeing as it was kept.
Finally, one may realise that everything depends on the fact that this something was kept.
First it is necessary to have remembered something.
Then one may realise that something was remembered.
Then one may realise that it must be significant, seeing as it was remembered.
Finally, one may realise that everything depends on the fact that this something was remembered.
There is a period of time between the time when this something was first kept/remembered and the time when its importance was realised. In which time goes in all directions.
(From Ursula Andkær Olsen’s webpage a day after we met her)
‘I first studied at the design school; I have always loved materials – and the fact that function determines form. But I also felt that there were too many things in the world, so I returned to something I wanted to be as a child; I became a conservator. And I love it.
But then I thought – why preserve all the old rubbish? Until I realised that the reason for preserving things is that they are carriers of stories; and if there is a story, they are interesting, but if there is no story, they are unimportant.
It is important for me that what is preserved is the story, and that the imprints of people’s lives that we can use – as objects to aid our stories – are preserved. That is what is exciting – then there is a red threat in it’.
For our talk Nicole brought two different, yet connected objects. One object was a dried flower from a hillside, and the other was some blessed rice and seed pods from a ceremony at the convent. They come from a trip to Nepal, which she visited to seek answers to the questions, what is consciousness, and do everyone experience the world in the same way. As a child Nicole asked her mother if all people are in fact the same inside. But she never got an answer.
Nicole has two sons who in different ways have aroused her interest in how we humans experience the world differently, and how we are all unique when we enter the world. Her eldest son had a natural calm that moved her. He was well-balanced. Her youngest son was frail and restless and he insisted on having his close relations close by all the time. His need for love and honesty in his surroundings is great.
‘My first son inspired me to look for knowledge about consciousness, because he at an early age picked up very precise information about people who have passed away and whom he could know nothing about. My other son inspired me to look for someone who has experience with love and consciousness entangled, in one way or the other, and thus I have come across Buddhism several times.
I went to Nepal for three weeks and imagined that I would spend the time in a quiet retreat. But then there was a ceremony that lasted for nine days with hoots, cracks and buzzing and a lot of action – I chose to participate in it. I experienced clarity and kindness and an uncomplicated way of being in the world. At the ceremony rice and seeds were thrown into the air, and the atmosphere was great.
When everyone had left I sat down on a mountain side by the convent, 3,500 metres above sea level, and enjoyed the quietude after all that noise and energy.
I picked this little flower and it became a souvenir and carrier of memories of all the things that had happened. It reminded me of the atmosphere, the energy – the entire experience really. The rice and the seed pods are part of the rituals, and I have difficulties relating to the significance of the rituals, but the flower is not part of the rituals. It is the bloom of the experience’.