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One Man’s Junk Is a Storyteller’s Treasure

In his monologue that closes out the industrial design film Objectified, reviewed here back in March, it’s clear that columnist and author Rob Walker is perplexed by our obsession with material culture.

cow-creamer

In his monologue that closes out the industrial design film Objectified, reviewed here back in March, it’s clear that columnist and author
Rob Walker is perplexed by our obsession with material culture. He even goes so far as to propose a campaign that would entice people into appreciating the mountains of stuff they already possess: “Things you already own, why not enjoy them today?”

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Turns out Walker was pondering these issues long before Gary Hustwit’s camera was focused on him–writing the book Buying In, he started toying with ways to make objects worth more. “While doing the book I was thinking a lot about what makes a thing matter, and I sort of end the book on the idea that it has more to do with personal narrative than anything else–the meaning comes from us, not the object,” he says. “So that led to ‘Well, what if you made up a narrative, or got great fiction writers to do so?'”

jfk-bust

And that’s exactly what Walker did. In partnership with Joshua Glenn, who wrote the book Taking Things Seriously, the two recruited 30 writers to script the stories behind would-be castaway crap on the new site Significant Objects. Glenn and Walker combed thrift stores and yard sales looking for insignificant objects–a bust of JFK that looks like it was possibly a high school art project, a scuffed ashtray with a Sanka logo, a toy hot dog complete with grill marks–and assigned them to the writers, who imbued them with new provenance, drama, emotion and, sometimes, scandal.

But here’s the real beauty of the project: These objects, along with their stories, are also being auctioned on eBay. And they’re selling! A rather frightening cow creamer with a dark past has 12 bids. “It’s still essentially a fun art project,” says Walker. “But I do think it ends up making people think about value and objects in a new way.”

necking-pin

Some of the objects with big-ticket names attached–Kurt Andersen and Bruce Sterling, for example–have not yet been revealed, which gives us all the more reason to keep checking back. And here’s an interesting and perhaps inadvertent side effect of the project: It could be argued that such exposure actually makes the writers worth more, too. A not-insignificant thing, especially in these times when the written word also might be seen as undervalued. But if that’s not enough, the writers get some cash for their efforts, too: They get to pocket the proceeds that their object fetches at auction.

Related Stories:
‘Objectified’ Review: A Hurricane of Consumer Values

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.

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