Parsons School of Design wants to document the objects of our collective isolation

Everyone is invited to share a photo of nine objects whose meaning has changed during lockdown for The Atlas of Everyday Objects.

8 April 2020

The Observational Practices Lab (OPL) in New York's Parsons School of Design is dedicated to how we look at everyday objects, and it's fair to say all our viewpoints have shifted significantly in recent times. So its response is a project that invites everyone to document the objects of their isolation and share them on Instagram, to be collated as the Atlas of Everyday Objects. Participants are asked to look around and ask which objects have taken on new meaning since they’ve been isolated. The results aim to be a collaborative archive documenting our current global situation, and how it has impacted our relationship with the objects in our lives.

“We will not know how the pandemic will change us but we know we will be changed,” says Pascal Glissmann, assistant professor of communication design at Parsons and part of the team leading the project. “We hope this collection of everyday objects will provide a record of the perceptual shift in the everyday environment at the moment it is occurring. Will our at-home isolation actually shape a new kind of collective memory? How will future reckoning with this pandemic be inscribed in the everyday objects that surround us?”

The Lab was founded in 2016 to examine how objects are observed and analysed by people of different disciplinary backgrounds, and uses everyday objects as a way to highlight unseen or overlooked aspects of contemporary society. In response to the US political changes, the OPL launched Object America in 2017 wherein it invited Ellen Lupton, senior curator at the Cooper Hewitt, to choose an object which she believed would represent America in the future. She chose the model 500 telephone designed by Henry Dreyfuss; this was then investigated by 13 researchers across varying disciplines from climate science to poetry, and their very different observational methods were documented and published to “inspire new ways of seeing”.


@thestan_fotografie, Freiburg im Breisgau

In contrast, this new responsive project is crowdsourced, where anyone around the world can choose the objects that represent this time. “We're excited about the anti-hierarchical approach of everyone curating their own grid of objects that reflect their new relationship to their personal and immediate material world,” says Selena Kimball, assistant professor of contemporary art practice, who worked with Glissmann on the project. The brief calls for participants to identity nine objects and depict them as a 3x3 grid. “These nine objects when seen together make an idiosyncratic portrait through things, a brief snapshot of an individual in a specific place and at this time of pandemic.” So far, the results have shown items such as large bags of flour, which has been selling out in many supermarkets, a “surprising” number of newly-planted seedlings and plants, showing a widespread uptake in gardening, as well as things like a bird feeder, a mug of tea, cats, siblings, a solitary wooden chair.

“These grids, when seen alongside one another, also point to the recurrence of certain items that are taking on new collective meaning as a result of the virus that they never had before: toilet paper, soap, door knobs, handkerchiefs, gloves, and masks, cleaning detergent and the laptop computer,” continues Glissmann.

Participant can share their photo grid on Instagram with the hashtag #objectsofmyisolation to be added to the Atlas of Everyday Objects — In the Age of Global Social Isolation. “We are thinking of the collective grouping of these grids of photographs of objects as an atlas. This itself will become the object of inquiry. How can photographic grids of material culture become an artefact itself?” Glissmann poses. “And what will future researchers see in them, see about our situation through them?”

GalleryAtlas of Everyday Objects — In the Age of Global Social Isolation


@soumyakasuganti, Mumbai


Alyssa Grossman, Liverpool

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@rotemvo Florentin, Tel Aviv

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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