1000 Extra/Ordinary Objects

2006-01-16

in Books and literature

This afternoon, in little jots between reading Keohane and Waltz, I finished the coffee table style book that Margaret gave me for my birthday: 1000 Extra / Ordinary Objects. Edited by Peter Gabriel and part of the Taschen series, it’s much less innocuous than the title and skillfully photographed pages would suggest. Indeed, it deals constantly with themes of warfare, violence, oppression, and abuse. Throughout, objects intimately connected with some of the worst of human activities are presented, often ironically situated alongside a more innocent item with a thematic connection.

Jello is presented alongside a description of the mechanical slaughter of 6-month-old calves, from which it is made, and on the page beside a sauce designed to be used for flavouring dead animals found alongside the road. Packets of branded heroin adorn the same pages as chocolate bars. All told, the book presents a fairly disturbing picture of humanity: a glimpse into an image-obsessed, casually violent, and quite possibly seriously deranged collective.

As you would expect from a Taschen book, it is certainly elegantly presented. Each object is photographed under studio conditions, devoid of context except insofar as it is not provided by the sans-serif gray descriptive paragraphs – written in English and French. The tendency to associate even innocent objects with disturbing descriptions highlights the extent to which the book sets out to shock; the Pikachu doll comes accompanied with a description of how children were accidentally given epileptic seizures by a flashing light display in one episode of the Japanese television show. All this makes the strange Japanese products that are staples of the curious object genre seem particularly innocuous, by comparison. This book could easily be reformatted into a gallery show at the Tate Modern.

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