Cheese knives. Chinese yo-yos. Tools on a Swedish farm. For the past 11 years, artist Alberto Frigo has taken a photo of everything his right hand has touched. By 2040, when the project ends, Frigo believes he’ll have photographed a million different objects.
Ultimately, they’ll assemble in a collection of timeline-like panels, to make a perfect, 32-foot-by-32-foot square. And Frigo will retire from the project, having just turned 60.
“I was fascinated by being able to track the activities of a person over a lifetime,” Frigo writes in an email. At first, Frigo hacked a rig consisting of a finger-mounted video camera for his left hand and a microphone for his right. He planned to annotate life as he saw it, but he found living that way was clumsy, and required constant editing. So he simplified the project to just the things he touched. “I thought that the objects I was using could have become somewhat the letters of an alphabet to track my life–some kind of DNA code of a human being at the beginning of the new millennium.”
What better DNA for life in a consumer culture than the objects themselves? Frigo found that objects could represent moments and memories. A summer in China became a collection of yo-yos, as he spent his weekend learning the craft of Chinese yoyoing from elders in local parks. Time spent on a Swedish farm drove Frigo to investigate antique farming tools, rediscovering the techniques lost to modern technologies. A toothbrush marks every morning, gardening tools mark every spring. “By now, I am very aware of my day and every single event I am about to undertake or I have just undertook,” he says. “I am able to see these life events as a cluster of the objects I have just used or I predict I am about to use.”
Can Frigo appreciate these moments if he’s always photographing them? Eleven years into the project he says it’s become second nature. “I do not even think about my left hand photographing the objects my right hand uses,” he writes. “It is as natural for me as sliding a card in order to access the door of a building.” He’s also developed a personal workflow to keep his constant photography as unobtrusive as possible. Frigo always wears a small pouch on the left side of his waste. Inside, he has an Aiptek pen camera–a digital camera from the year 2000. (Frigo keeps a box full of spares at home.) With no screen or focus adjustments, he can pull it from his pocket, aim, and shoot with his left hand in a few seconds. Furthermore, he never photographs the same object more than once every 24 hours, which cuts down his photographs to an average of 76 per day, a figure that almost sounds manageable.
“In this project, I find the poetic dimension of being self-reliant and living a simple life, taking out my pocket knife while sitting next to a mountain spring reflecting the sun and cutting a slice of cheese while eating a warm dish,” Frigo writes. “I mean, I don’t refuse the complexity of modern life and I am willing to follow along with it, but I guess there is a poetic element also in the act of recording manually an existence particularly when attempting to get back in communion with nature.”