Conversations about valued objects

Today we did an exercise with so called conversation pieces. Together with my fellow student Barend Onneweer we did an assignment about valuing valued objects. And this assignment was in itself a conversation piece created by Irma Földényi. Again, it was much fun to do, very insightful, and I need to learn how to use this for my own research.

We asked 20 people make a drawing of their most valued object. There were a few stuffed toys, a bike, a sky scraper, some family heirlooms, a brain, an empty paper which represented emptiness and the freedom to create, a few animals, photo albums, an archive, an insulin kit. After we collected all these drawings we set up a rather complex three dimensional stage around a staircase where we asked passers by if they could arrange the drawings hierarchically, according to what they found most valuable. This resulted in some interesting insights into how different people think about objects. Some people came up with a very clear hierarchy, while others ended up with some very complex, subtle, almost contradictory results: sentimentality is awful in certain ways, but beautiful in others. One thing that’s clear is that people have different opinions about this.

A staircase seen from above, with on pieces of paper on different levels

Picture taken by Barend Onneweer

Another group did the same assignment, but much more structured. The stage they created was much simpler. A table, pictured from the top, with clear instructions that things on the left are more valued than things on the right. Since they worked on a much more crowded location they had more results. And since they kept it simple their results were much easier to compare. Really interesting to see that we ended up with two completely different results. Which might be expected in a creative environment.

I’m always a bit hesitant with using these kinds of interventions myself. I have the feeling that people don’t want to participate, that they find it annoying. This probably says something about myself. It turns out that many people want to help out, even when the goal is not really clear. And this, I think is very interesting. This means you can use these kinds of setups to get a clearer view of a concept. They provoke a discussion, and if the discussion is around a subject that’s not entirely clear yet, this can help. I must use these kinds of techniques more often.