I have always been fascinated by mundane objects and the intriguing personal relationships we form with them. My mother owned a fake stone in which she stored a spare key. The stone was so fake that anyone could easily recognize it for what it was. Nevertheless, for years and years this stone sat on the ground in front of our house, right next to real stones, flowers and other decoys.
I used to make fun of my mother for keeping and using it as our house keys were actually bigger than the opening in that fake stone key holder, so they could be seen dangling from its opening. Despite our keys being visible for anyone to take, my mother loved that key holder and would not part with it. I look back and realize that her beloved fake stone key holder, that I made fun of, has become the inspiration for my practice.
Mundane objects have provided a source of inspiration to artists, from Salvador Dali’s Surrealist depictions of the dream imagery of everyday objects to Andy Warhol’s famous tomato soup cans. My fascination with mundane objects began with my mother’s fake stone key holder. I explored the simple domestic objects that surround us everyday such as; keys, cups, remotes and toilet paper. Objects with no obvious monetary or sentimental value.
In my postgraduate studies I examined social aspects of sustainable development and the theory of product attachments. My work involved exploring,
- What is value?
- What is a valuable object?
- Who confers value on certain objects?
- Is it something attributed subjectively by the individual
- Is it embedded within the object’s physical attributes?
- Can a designer impact on the extent to which users bond with an object?
- And is it possible to retain such a bond indefinitely?
The theory of ‘product attachment’ became the conceptual framework which underpins my practice. The theory advocates emotion-focused design processes and methods. This encourages the designer to look beyond the physical functionality of everyday objects. It urges them to consider the emotional, inspirational, social and cultural needs of the user.
In order to promote product attachment, designers should attempt to design products that evoke memories. One type of memory that may be linked to product attachment is known as episodic memory.
Episodic memory includes recollections of events such as times, places, associated emotions. It allows an individual to travel back in time to remember a particular event. Episodic memory lies outside of conscious awareness most of the time, but a retrieval process allows stored memories to be brought back into conscious awareness. This retrieval, whether by recall or recognition, often results from an appropriate stimulus or trigger. Such triggers have the power to momentarily freeze time, to withdraw a person’s mind and presence from the present to relive the past once again. Going to a specific place, looking at a certain object or hearing a certain sound can activate episodic memories relating to things that occurred at that location, or events associated with that object, or emotions associated with that sound.
It is possible that the triggers which retrieve episodic memory may bring about product attachment.
Using this theory as a rationale and direction, I have developed a range of products that encourage a progression of memories between individuals and their domestic objects. These products demonstrate various triggers for different types of episodic memory that could promote product attachment, providing a richer context and history. It is hoped that such designs will eventually contribute to the development of more sustainable objects, thus positively affecting today’s culture of consumption.