Tuesday 4 December 2012

Listening to the Museum of Emotions

I am so seduced by Stephen Cornford's Binatone Galaxy.

Cornford turns obsolete cassette players into musical objects in their own right. Hung on the wall, they are activated by motion sensors - as visitors pass by, the cassettes begin to play the sounds of their own activity: an ebbing and flowing mixture of clockwork chimes laid over rushing water and whistly warbles.

In a way, Binatone Galaxy reminds me of Janet Cardiff's The Forty-Part Motet: functional objects that release us into emotion through sound. With Cardiff this is beautiful voices, but somehow Cornford teases a wistful, yearning quality out of these blocky lumps of plastic and metal. The piece got me thinking about how how we attribute emotion to inanimate objects and representations of them. Take the 'Faces in Everyday Objects' group on Flickr for example, where members hunt out examples of pareidolia. Or author Sianne Ngai's observation that defining something as 'cute' has the effect of infantilising the viewer, and that:
... just as a child might love a doll to tatters, our absorption with “cuteness” is born of both tenderness and aggression. Something cute is something we condescend to, even as we desire to touch and ruffle and hold and possess it.
These inanimate objects are something I have thought about a lot in relation to my ideas for Emophoto. If it is ever built, I want to seed it with curated sets of content. One would be William James Harding's studio portraits from the late 1800s. And another would be a subset of the product photos by K.E. Niven from the 1960s and 1970s.

Daniel Manders Beere, Steam crane, Gisborne, during work on a breakwater. Ref: 1/2-096270-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23145713
Or take this image of a crane, by Daniel Manders Beere. It always reminds me of Kipling's 'last, loneliest, loveliest' - only it is staunch and stern, as well as tinged with melancholy. It's part of a set I am growing called, somewhat facilely, 'Sad face' - images of nothing in particular, usually, that hold a certain pathos for me.

All this makes me muse on my Museum of Emotions idea. One of the thing that has linked particularly moving works for me - Michael Parekowhai, Janet Cardiff, in its own peculiar, heart-twisting way, Binatone Galaxy - is sounds and/or music. Sound draws us in and slows us down. It holds us for a time. It lowers our defences. It opens us up.

(To the side - this New York Times article about 'affect' in architecture and design makes interesting reading in this context; the efficient lines of Helvetica communicates straightforwardness, progress: the warm wooden lines of the Thonet chair merges the industrial with the handmade.)

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