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Call For Submissions: The biographies of things!


This sweater was knit for me by my paternal grandmother, Geraldine. I call her Nana. She is 90 years old, 4’7” inches tall, and she wears a strawberry red wig on special occasions. Her hands are riddled with arthritis and her vision is fading, yet she didn’t drop a single stitch while constructing this garment. She knits while she watches football and baseball and pauses every once in a while to shout at the screen. She’s a Pats and a Sox fan of course. The sweater is made from muted green acrylic yarn. Both the front and back are cabled. It still smells like her rose perfume. When I put the sweater on it looks like I forgot to take the hanger out because the shoulders come to a point. This must have something to do with the way she seamed it, and maybe something to do with the fact that my shoulders are narrow. And so, I don’t wear it. I have written about my effort to purge (donate or sell) the things I don’t use. The thought of squirreling my belongings away and having them fall into “dormancy” makes me feel sad and a little anxious. Ideally, I want to adore the things I keep and use them for their intended purpose. In most cases, I’m ruthless about donating garments I know I won’t wear because I would rather these items recirculate so that someone else who might love them better can find them. And I can imagine that there is someone out there with broad and pointy shoulders who would look fantastic in this moss green cardigan. But my Nana knit it for me. And she didn’t drop a single stitch. So I keep it.

The finish line of my studies is in sight. For my thesis, I have been exploring issues of object attachment as they relate to the ways we consume and discard. It seems that at every turn, we are met with proof of the impermanence of things. Seasons change, landscapes shift, artifacts materialize and decay, and vibrant life grows, withers, then eventually expires. Psychologists, sociologists, cognitive scientists, theologians, and philosophers have long studied the ways in which our perception of this constant flux governs our behavior for better or worse. Because of the nature of the impermanent world around us, we form emotional attachments to people, places, and things. In many ways, attachment demonstrates one’s ability to recognize the preciousness, uniqueness, or thisness of entities. The bonds we form render us better caregivers and stewards of our surroundings and influence how we place value. We celebrate birth, admire growth, and commemorate transitions. But our attachments may also lead us to fear loss and death. Cases can be made for positioning oneself at either end of a spectrum of emotional attachment. Most of us experience tides of attachment and detachment throughout the course of our lives. Equipped with the ability to feel both in the face of impermanence, we can navigate complex human experiences. If we can examine the ways in which we form attachments, we may better understand how to use objects to remind ourselves of what is most meaningful and highlight the exquisitely beautiful and painful instances of life.

This is a call for submissions. I am collecting the stories of stuff. Please email me a description of any item you might feel inspired to write about. Describe one possession you feel attached to. It may be something you use everyday, or it may be void of utilitarian or aesthetic value to you, yet something prevents you from letting it go. It could be an item reminds you of a loved one or a love lost. Or maybe the initial cost of acquiring the item was too great to part with it. Perhaps it’s something you save ‘just in case’ you find a need for it in the future. Tell me the biography of this object you keep and describe your relationship to it. I will share your stories on this blog. I am curious to see what discoveries might come of lining these objects of attachment up next to each other.

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Metal Mountain

The other day, while I was headed out of town I drove by the Sims Metal Management site on Eddy Street. Lit by the setting sun, the towering pile of metal scraps was quite a sight to behold. Apparently Sims is the world’s largest scrap metals and electronics recycling company. They just moved into the nine-acre Providence waterfront property in October, replacing Promet Marine Services Corporation. The export terminal includes a 600 ft pier with rail services and two deep-water berths. I am curious about the process. It seems that some sorting and compressing is being done here in Providence, but I wonder if they are also melting and molding metals on-site. Where is the recycled metal sent once it has been processed? I’m looking into getting a tour…

Tomorrow is America Recycles Day. I heard that my local Whole Foods Markets are teaming up with Green Penguin for an electronics waste recycling drive. I contacted Green Penguin for more information and they directed me to a poster on their Facebook page, which lists all the accepted e-waste materials. I will be dropping off some non-functioning electronics that I have been storing while I looked for a way to properly dispose of them. The e-waste blight is a rapidly growing problem.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which my electronic devices impact my health and the environment as I continue my effort to “go paperless.” I try to limit the use of my cell phone and I’m determined to take excellent care of my laptop so that it will serve me for many years to come. I’ve learned to keep all my chargers, cables, and headphones out of the reach of my cat, as she loves to chew on them. I no longer own a TV or any decks. I watch movies and shows on my computer. When I want to see something projected large, I go to work or to the cinema. Pairing down my electronic devices to the few that are essential to my current lifestyle has made caring for those few items more manageable. 

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The Stuff Show

I work on an experimental film series called The Magic Lantern Cinema. Last week we put on a show that I curated–largely inspired by the No Trash Project. In an attempt to streamline the waste reduction effort, I’ve been working to dramatically reduce my possessions to what I consider essentials–according to functional, sentimental, and even aesthetic value. This process has prompted me to reevaluate my own wants and needs for STUFF.  I’ve noticed my own tastes evolving as my lifestyle changes, and as I work through a careful consideration of my belongings, I’m struck by this newfound or heightened stewardship, and love of the things I deem worthy of keeping–like my trusty all-purpose wooden spatula, for instance. And my hand-me-down kitchen table that I recently noticed has beautifully joined legs, even if they’re a bit scarred at the ends where a teething puppy chewed them nearly eighteen years ago. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff and I tried to put together a program that deals with some of these ideas. Below are the write-up and films synopses. A few of the titles can be screened online or rented/borrowed on DVD.

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Whether by design, circumstance, or accident, stuff sticks to us. In form and function, our belongings are descriptors in our personal narratives. What rules do we use to curate the objects we keep? Do our possessions–and the systems of organization we use to govern their arrangement–reveal more about us than our most intimate conversations? Magic Lantern Cinema’s “The Stuff Show” is a collection of short films about gleaning, coveting, producing, and purging. Stuff by its many names–essentials, art, waste–is scattered throughout scenes of a manufacturing company warehouse, a Pop artist’s sculpture studio, and a Japanese beachside dump. Commonplace objects stray from their everyday roles to haunt, fornicate, and dance across the screen. Here is a program to prompt a reconsideration, reassemblage, or repurposing of our stuff–much of which will long outlive us.

FEATURING: G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, “Westinghouse Work: Panorama view aisle B” (1904); Hans Richter, “Ghosts Before Breakfast” (1928); Michael Snow, “A to Z” (1956); Willard Maas, “The Mechanics of Love” (1955); Takahiko Iimura, “Kuzu (Junk)” (1962); Ed Emshwiller, “George Dumpson’s Place” (1965); Charles and Ray Eames, “Goods” (1982) and “Tops” (1969); Mallory Slate, “Claes Oldenburg” (1966)


“Westinghouse Works: Panorama view aisle B,” G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, 1904, 16mm on video, b&w, silent, 2 min.

In April and May of 1904, The American Mutoscope Biograph Company made 29 films at the Westinghouse Electric Company production facilities. Billy Bitzer–who would later become the cinematographer for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation–was hired to shoot the films. In Panorama view aisle B, a crane-mounted camera tracks high above the factory floor. Piles of metal forms lie below amid the commotion of workers cutting, welding, assembling, polishing and painting machine parts. 

“Ghosts Before Breakfast,” Hans Richter, 1928, 16mm, b&w, silent, 9 min.

“Objects are also people and [they] follow their own laws”-“the rhythm of the clock.” (H.R.). According to the clock in Ghosts Before Breakfast is 11:55 am. Only five minutes remain for bowler’s hats, teacups, a fire hose, revolvers, and a bow tie to run amuck in the world. At the stroke of noon they obediently return to a functional state. A title card at the start of the film reads: “The Nazis destroyed the sound version of this film as ‘degenerate art’. It shows that even objects revolt against regimentation.”

“A to Z,” Michael Snow, 1956, 16mm, b&w, silent, 7 min. 

Michael Snow’s first film (his only animation) illustrates the nighttime activities of dinning furniture. A vase, bowl, teacup and saucer dance merrily around a table. A chair stands still to the side. The teacup leads the chair to meet a friend–another chair. After a very brief romance, the two chairs consummate their love.


“The Mechanics of Love,” Willard Maas, 1955, 16mm, b&w, sound, 7 min. 

A couple’s act of lovemaking is described in still life images of suggestive household items and through the motion of ordinary tasks. “Daring and ingenious … daring because of its ‘forbidden’ subject matter; ingenious because commonplace objects are uncommonly related to build an action without actors, the effect of which is vivid, witty and downright bold.” – Lewis Jacobs 


“Claes Oldenburg,” Mallory Slate, 1966, 16mm, b&w, sound, 30 min. 

In a 1966 visit to his massive Lower East Side live/work loft, Claes Oldenburg takes us through the process of creating his mammoth, grotesque soft sculptures of everyday objects. He describes his pieces as idealized, magnified representations of the ‘sculptures of the home.’ Claes and his wife Pat develop patterns, prototypes, and finished works for various exhibitions. Slouching toilets and droopy electric mixers draw scores of art lovers into New York galleries.


“Tops,” Charles and Ray Eames, 1969, color, 35mm on video, sound, 8 min. 

From the simplest wooden dreidel to the hypnotizing Tedco toy gyroscope, tops of all shapes, colors, and sizes spin to the music of Elmer Bernstein. Operators across cultures and generations wind, crank, zip, twirl, and toss this classic toy in delightfully dizzying close-up compositions.


“Goods,” Charles & Ray Eames, 1982, slides on video, color, sound, 6.25 min. 

An excerpt from a lecture on poetry (given at Harvard in 1970-71) is paired with a three-screen slide show. A story about the break-in of his wife Ray’s car, and the items which the burglar chose to leave behind, leads into a discussion of what Charles Eames calls the ‘new covetables.’ 


“George Dumpson’s Place,” Ed Emshwiller, 1965, 16mm, color, sound, 8 min. 

A camera leads us over a stream and trough the woods to a dilapidated, overstuffed cabin. Its contents spill out amongst the surrounding flora. As we scan the piles of scavenged objects, careful arrangements begin to stand out. Broken action figures crouch between piles of stones. A tiny ceramic bust stands watch atop the end of a broomstick. In regard to his desire to make this film, Ed Emshwiller explained that George Dumpson “epitomized the soul of the artist.” 


“Kuzu (Junk),” Takahiko Iimura, 1962, 16mm, b&w, sound, 10 min. 

 “The beach of Tokyo Bay was a dumpsite for all the city’s human, animal and industrial wastes when I shot “Junk” there in the early 60s – today this is no longer the case. I was interested in the way my commitment could revive the junk and dead animals. At times the objects are animated, which could be seen as surreal, yet they are real at the same time. The concept coincides with the Neo-Dada in art, in which junk is assembled and incorporated into artwork. Yet today’s point of view, the film certainly shows concern with the ecology and may be regarded as an early attempt to deal with the destruction of our environment.” – T.I.

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