Unexpected artifacts

“Step into the living room, study, office, studio, or den of just about any engaged, imaginative, passionate individual and you’ll gravitate toward an item that, although it may not appear particularly valuable, is reverentially displayed as though it were a precious, irreplaceable artifact.” Such is the contention of Boston-based writer and editor Joshua Glenn?-?who suggested to a friend of his, New York-based graphic designer and artist Carol Hayes, that they gather together a book’s worth of such items. Glenn and Hayes e-mailed artists, designers, thinkers and writers of their acquaintance, asking each of them to contribute an object of significance, along with a rumination on where it came from and what it had come to mean. The result is the delightfully offbeat and entertaining Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects With Unexpected Significance, published by Princeton Architectural Press.

The object of cartoonist Bill Griffith’s affection is an old soda bottle he found, in 1977, amid the rubble of a demolished building in a town close to San Francisco. The label reads “Zippy” in a jazzy, colourful style?-?an amazing find, since Griffith’s Zippy strip had, at that time, been appearing in weekly newspapers for over a year. The label on the bottle became his logo. A Baia Dual 8 Film Editor from the ’70s, purchased on the street for three dollars, is the prize possession of Mark Kingwell, writer and a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. Writes Kingwell, “It sits on my desk, lamp lighted, arms outstretched, little handles dangling, expectant, begging to illuminate strips of film?-?stories and memories?-?that are never going to come.” While the Grammy award that New York-based graphic designer Chika Azuma won for designing a CD package is in a box of odds and ends, the laser-cut foam it was packaged in for mailing?-?”a perfect negative image of the object it was supposed to protect”?-?is displayed proudly on a shelf.

Other items range from the sacred (a holy-water holder in the shape of cupped hands, done in white porcelain, now used as an ashtray) to the profane (a novelty Sexy Camera, from whose lens cap springs a large, pink plastic penis); from the prosaic (a handful of dirt from a journalist’s home state of Arizona) to the profound (ceramic insulator pegs taken from the Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland); from the ugly (a crawling Mabel doll, who’s metal torso, unclothed, is the stuff of nightmares) to the beautiful (a dried-out artichoke that is an unlikely work of art).

All of the objects?-?captured by various photographers, including Hayes?-?are evocative, as are the stories behind them.