I was intrigued by Katy Soar and Paul-François Tremlett’s recent contribution to the World Archaeology issue on counter-archaeologies. They examine the material culture and space of the Occupy Democracy demonstration in London in 2014 and the “Disobedient Objects” exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum during the same year.
For the authors “protest objects” represent both embody Lévi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage to describe the opportunistic re-use of everyday objects as objects supporting protest. Tents, camp chairs, banners, tarps, and other objects drawn from everyday life become protest objects when situated in relation to both political spaces (in this case, the Parliament) and amid a particular set of performative gestures. The protesters used these objects to perform their critique of democracy (or whatever). The police and “heritage wardens” tasked with keeping the area around Parliament “authentically heritigistical” (or something of that sort) performed their critique of the demonstration by removing and destroying these objects. In short, the relationship between the diverse assemblage of objects associated with the Occupy Democracy protests in London and a range of performative gestures create meaning.
The nearly contemporary exhibit of “disobedient objects” at the Victoria and Albert transformed these same objects into artifacts of the protest. Severed from the immediacy of performance, the objects nevertheless served to evoke the spirit of the Occupy movement by standing in for the absent performative relationships that gave them meaning. At the same time, the exhibit succeeded in “othering” these objects by locating them within the foreign performative confines of the experience of the museum. For the authors, this exhibit transformed the tradition of museum display at the Victoria and Albert from one based on the formal qualities of an artifact to one based on its use. The museum offered a hybridized perspective that relied on the utter banality of the “disobedient objects” to highlight meaning generated through their performative context.
This move by the museum (and this article) to re-contextualize these disobedient objects in a way that allows for their investigation and interrogation reminds me a good bit of what I was trying to do with my tourist guide to the Bakken. The modern space of the museum, the academic article, and the tourist guide provides a performative context for objects that both re-presents some aspect of their original performance as well as opening up those relationships for examination. To my mind, this move is fundamental to modernity and echoes, for example, our ability to both be part of “nature” and to isolate it for study.
The banality of the objects used by the demonstrators and their transformation to protests objects and then, through re-exibition at a museum to disobedient objects, likewise informed my ongoing study of everyday objects used in construction of temporary domestic space in the Bakken. Shipping pallets, cable spools, camping chairs, gas grills, scrap wood, and generators contribute to everyday life in the Bakken through a network of performative relationships and other objects. By locating the research – as tourist – within this network of relationships (that in some ways define dwelling), we acknowledge the artifice of our gaze as part of the world that defines and recognizes these objects.