“To travel is to travel”
Sally Messell Dalgaard
A series of objects are presented in a white space. Some of these appear relatively untreated, with no or few traces of use; an elegant glass pipe is exceptionally clean, and five nail clippers are not even taken out of their packaging. Others have been subjected to manipulation; a one-dollar bill is folded into a mixing tray, and a pigeon covered in resin is locked in an awkward pose. Still others testify to a direct process of transformation; aluminum castings of a branch resembling a horn stand leaning against the wall – a gold bridge with associated teeth points to the perishability of different materials.
At first glance, it does not appear from the individual objects where they originate. A botanist might recognize a bunch of dried flowers from a temperate climate further south, and a gun expert – or one who sees “Alone in the Wilderness” – would know where to get a metal slingshot. For each object, someone would recognize small signs: patina and stylistic choices that point to different periods, industries, and locations. When things lie next to each other and are considered part of a larger narrative, the question therefore arises – how did they all end here?
Some principle of selection, or several, must be able to be applied to these objects, for such principles are always part of our interaction with (fragments of) the world around us. Numerous value systems and cultural norms dictate which objects we surround ourselves with. But what criteria have been applicable here; why have a handful of withered plants been stored and cared for? How did a rubber mat – a material extracted from a tree and end up as a shoe – end up in the inner city? In what situations are a pair of sunglasses relevant?
Diversity seems to be the condition of our encounter with material reality. As consumers, we buy products made in places far from us; these circulate in certain parts of the world, preferably for a limited period of time so that they can be replaced quickly. As tourists, we equip ourselves with what we think will make the journey more comfortable; practical things in good design that last at least as long as the journey lasts. And as romantics, we attach even more value to even the most humble gimmick than money can express; because it reminds us of something we want to remember, or because it makes us feel something that other gizmos cannot. Then we are willing to carry it across the globe, and perhaps keep it for life.
In that way, it is never just the “case” that makes us stop over things we encounter; an intention is always at stake when we sort in the stream of objects that we float around in – whatever it is aesthetically, emotionally or financially grounded. In this stream, there are different ways of navigating: the adventurous moves in one way, the athlete in another. Some roles, methods, can be emulated – some can not. Along the way, we come in contact with various reminiscences that point to situations other than the current one, and sometimes we keep them for that very reason. A trophy, a souvenir, a gift. How and when they should return to the circulation is now suddenly up to us, and depends on a number of other factors in flux; what do we have the time, space and affordability to own? How long does it take before one thing has become another? To what extent do we feel like possessing things at all?
Despite the fact that transformations and movements of matter are inevitable in the long run, this is not a universal – or necessary – relationship. Neither the “global market” nor our relationship to the concept of “borders” at all facilitates a fair distribution of mobility. The way individual things and individual people move – or are moved – depends on the structures they are part of. Free movement thus remains a distant dream for most people, and those who benefit from it must constantly ask themselves , whether they use it in a responsible way.
These structures, with their possibilities or limitations, testify to the things themselves. Some situations are temporary; as with the cyclist who does not have time to pick the flowers before the stage is over, or the tourist who is lost and has more important things to think about – others are long-lasting, if not permanent; identity and class are structures that are difficult to get out of, and which to that extent have an impact on which objects we come in contact with. Thus, the value we attach to things is also governed by the structures we are in, rather than by an “objective” criterion. A journey is not the same for me as for you – and the things we take home from the journey tell different stories; even if things are the same. Such is the premise of removing something from a habitat always that we ourselves must interact with, and thus have an influence on this context.
In the exhibition, there is also a strange figure on a steel table. A toy forklift, assembled from many small parts. What kind of activity is this – a kind of aestheticization of the general premise of plasticity? A fascination with advanced design? A need for motor stimulation? There is not one answer to that question, because the interest in and development of technology occurs for many different reasons. From the first flint stone ax to a doped body, from a garment to the super-billionaires’ space race in 2022; technical manipulation of material is a condition as well as the movement of it.
That way, all things are totally hybrid: never either form or function, always both. These are the ones we experience around the world – but they are also the ones we use in the world. They may change as a result of changes in their context; muscle mass disappears without maintenance, materials are melted and recast. But the presence of a thing can also change a context, and here a feeling can have as much transformative potential as time that wears things away – a piece of rubbish becomes a declaration of love, a heirloom gives rise to a rewriting of history. Thus, the causality of our interactions with the outside world is not linear, but a constant interaction between material that is moved, changed, aestheticized and used. Precisely because things do not last forever – but are in perpetual change.