The Pathos of Things
March, 2013

carriage trade

Shop for a product. Buy the product. Touch the product’s screen. When things do mostly what we wish, they become invisible. When they frustrate our expectations, they’re dispensed with. In a world of objects that exist to service our needs, when something fails to function, (mechanically, aesthetically, indefinitely) it runs the risk of exposing our dependence on it, its failure a potential rupture in the seamless flow of our psychological mastery over the things around us.

At least since the origins of consumerism, what we consume is not entirely in our possession. Moving beyond utility into belief, the "de-objecting" of things that occurs in advertising and branding seems to afford a special power to the objects in our midst. The things we acquire also exist as statements we (willingly or unwillingly) make in our role as users of a brand. A sneaker’s function as footwear is less significant than its confirmation of an identification between brand and consumer. Each pair relies on the user to spread the brand’s message.

When we consider an ordinary or natural object that is unfettered by allegiances to a corporate source, even the most mundane thing presents us with a philosophical challenge. Given that our understanding of its existence is limited to a series of sensorial tests, does the fact that we can see, touch, or smell a thing guarantee that it’s "there"? With much of what we experience taken on faith, perhaps it’s unsurprising that we often see ourselves in the inanimate, imposing anthropomorphic qualities on objects which might otherwise lack purpose, as our moment-to-moment narrative constructed to make sense of things unfolds.

The Japanese term Mono no aware, or literally "the pathos of things", refers to a kind of empathy towards things that reveals a heightened awareness of their transience and, by extension, our own. The subject of this show then is our relationship to objects, in both their promise and frustration, and of the expectations that come of necessity when we enlist the everyday things around us to help clarify our uncertain connections to the material world.