Claire’s Response to ‘Objects of Desire’
As this semester is coming to an end, I have been thinking about what ideas I have been attracted to in my classes this year. I realized the through line for me has been the potential temporal and spatial permeability between events. For this reason, I appreciated Stewart’s writing on the souvenir. She writes that one of the souvenir’s functions is to mediate the distance between the present and the original place/event. Through the narrative that surrounds the object, the past is invoked while remaining necessarily distant. “The souvenir generates a narrative which reaches only ‘behind,’ spiraling in a continually inward movement rather than outward toward a future.” (135)
Although the souvenir can produce mnemonic association, the accompanying narrative may override or substitute the memory. Maybe we have all experienced returning home and having everyone ask for our stories from afar. Some stories are a hit and are repeatedly told. The suitcase opens and the distribution of stories and objects begins. The pictures and objects provide additional sensorial references to the story- enabling friends and family to travel back with you. For me, I know that the stories that I have repeatedly told are more accessible to recall than my actual memory of the event. With this in mind, approaching the collection of souvenirs and the taking of pictures, could be considered a compositional choice in the arrangement of what will later become ‘memory.’
Collecting the souvenir is consuming the experience of the place, “the exotic object represents distance appropriated.” (147) When I was in Bali several years ago, I was the videographer for this festival for international performance artist. I remember feeling this moment of great turmoil when videoing this woman dancing. It became clear to me that something multidimensional was happening. Even though I had been asked to tape the whole event, my position as an outsider became intensified to the point of feeling paranoid about recording this dynamic situation. I turned off the camera and just watched. Later I got some grief from another American who was invested in me capturing that moment. It seemed too special. When filming something as documentation there is the recognition that it will be valued later, often in a different place. Stewart writes about the necessary distance and displacement for the souvenir (or documentation) to be a link to the past: “The souvenir must be removed from its context in order to serve as a trace of it.” (150) I realize that this impulse to shut off the camera was my discomfort with participating in the commodification of that event.
A photo and the story…
I took this picture in San Pedro, Guatemala (near Lake Atitilan). This man is the artist who made the small sculptures that are hanging behind him. I like this photo because it brings me back to the event. For many of these objects he enthusiastically described their cultural significance, mostly Mayan references. He also said that he sculpts things that he sees on TV, like a bust of Osama Bin Laden and a woman having an abortion!