Found Objects

The faces that seem to peer up at me on rocky beaches are indubitably creatures of my imagination, but no less real for that. I’ve been trying to invent broader contexts and aesthetic provenance to clothe their ubiquity, but it was only yesterday, as I was reading WJT Mitchell’s What Do Pictures Want?, that it came home to me that my delirious panoply of rocks are objets trouvés, found objects in the full sense of the term. Behold:

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…just two criteria for a found object:

  1. it must be ordinary, unimportant, neglected, and (until its finding) overlooked;
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    it cannot be beautiful, sublime, wonderful, astonishing, or remarkable in any obvious way, or it would have already been singled out, and therefore would not be a good candidate for “finding”; and

  2. its finding must be accidental, not deliberate or planned. One doesn’t seek the found object, as Picasso famously remarked. One finds it. Even better, it finds you, looking back at you…

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Once found, however, the found object should, as in surrealistic practices, become foundational. It may undergo an apotheosis, a transfiguration of the commonplace, a redemption by art…

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pharaonic

If it really works, however, we have a sneaking suspicion that the transformation was a trick, a comic ruse engineered by a deus ex machina; and the plain old thing with its homely, familiar name is still there, blushing and smirking at us in the spotlight of aesthetic attention, or (better) ignoring us totally…


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The true found object never quite forgets where it came from, never quite believes in its elevation to spectacle and display. It remains humble to the end, a poor thing caught up in the push and pull of desire and demand…

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Another key to the found object is its tendency, once found, to hang around, gathering value and meaning like a sort of semantic flypaper or photosensitive surface.


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(in WJT Mitchell What Do Pictures Want? pp 114-155, 118)

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