The Bureau of Suspended Objects

The world is not a solid continent of facts sprinkled by a few lakes of uncertainties, but a vast ocean of uncertainties speckled by a few islands of calibrated and stabilized forms.

– Bruno Latour

Three shelves containing objects, such as an old bent license plate, deflated soccer ball, and a plastic aquarium plant. Next to a broken Powerbook G4 laptop is a digital photo frame that is playing a video of Steve Jobs introducing this same laptop at MacWorld in 2001
A crowd in a gallery, viewed from above, surrounded by shelves containing seemingly random objects. Some are using their phones to scan tags beneath each object, and others are holding information sheets

The Bureau of Suspended Objects is a one-person organization and archive that I originally operated through an artist residency at the Recology dump in San Francisco. The residency allows artists daily access to the public disposal area, where unwanted objects are discarded and processed on their way to the landfill and other locations. While in residence, I collected, archived, and researched the "past lives" of 200 objects.

An exhibition of the B.S.O. took place on Recology SF on September 18 and 19, 2015. Visitors to the archive were able to scan QR codes on each of the objects in order to be taken to a page with information about that object (the story of its manufacturing, Street View of the factory, company history, retail and used value, links to TV commercials, etc.). Some items were exhibited next to screens playing their original TV commercials or other related video (for instance, Item 171, Apple PowerBook G4, was exhibited next to a video of Steve Jobs rhapsodizing about its titanium body at MacWorld in 2002). Using the Layar app, visitors could also 1) scan photos of archived items in order to see an overlay showing the new, product photo version, 2) scan fragments of objects in order to see the entire thing, and 3) scan digital prints (Things Made in Asia and Things Made in North America) to see a text overlay showing where each item was manufactured.

All 200 objects continue to exist digitally at on the B.S.O. site as well as in the book, The Archive of the Bureau of Suspended Objects (available for purchase as a book or as a PDF here). Since the residency, The Bureau of Suspended Objects has been exhibited at Napa Valley Museum, the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, the Montserrat College of Art, and B4BEL4B. The B.S.O. has also collected and archived unwanted objects through residencies at the Palo Alto Art Center and The Museum of Capitalism.

visit the online archive  

Closeup of objects on shelves, showing a ceramic figurine of a bikini-wearing pig, next to a paper tag with its name, provenance, date it was archived, and a QR code
A large Motorola cell phone from 1989 next to a digital photo frame playing the original commercial for that phone A twisted plastic straw with attached floating toy eyeball next to a digital photo frame playing the original Taco Bell commercial, in which the straws were 99 cents with a meal
A shelf with a leather pencil holder, label gun, and miniature globe, each with identifying tags A shelf with broken plastic parts of a Fisher Price dollhouse, next to an identifying tag
Paper documents being displayed upright, with identifying tags clipped to them. They include old newspapers and a printed-out game FAQ from the 1990s A shelf showing an old plastic doll, squares of plastic orange material, and cassette tapes, each with identifying tags A found cassette tape collection laid out in a grid, each with a home-made cover, next to a label with a QR code and the text: The Item 143 Playlist. A YouTube playlist with one song from every album on these tapes. Jenny Odell sitting at a small desk with the book, The Archive of the Bureau of Suspended Objects, and other information. On either side are a large sign for the Bureau of Suspended Objects made from found materials, a found artificial office plant, and on a pedestal, a found silver-painted Tonka truck that is part of the archive.
Jenny Odell wearing a high-visibility vest, helmet, and gloves, finding a small backpack with a giant pile of trash in the background
photo: Kelly Lau
A giant pile of mostly unidentifiable trash inside the public disposal area at Recology
Chris Sollars, Roger Ourthiague, and Jenny Odell standing behind a shopping cart full of found objects, with a wall of trash behind them. Jenny is holding a found office phone receiver to her ear.
with other artists in residence, Chris Sollars and Roger Ourthiague (photo: Micah Gibson)
Outdoor shot of a shopping cart filled with stuff: a doll, globe, rainbow umbrella, television set, and Tonka truck A small vase-shaped bottle resting on a laptop whose screen shows a similar bottle on an online Chinese forum. Next to the laptop is a clipboard with notes on it Assorted objects on a found set of shelves, with early versions of the Bureau of Suspended Objects' identifying tags. The objects include a coin bank that looks like a cash register, a Star Wars McDonald's toy, and a plush dog that was signed during someone's graduation Messy studio space where found objects fill found shelves and tables, and are also laid out on the floor. In the background is a photographic setup with box lights and a desk with an office chair. Screen shot of the Bureau of Suspended Objects' online archive, showing a grid of objects

An animated photo of Jenny Odell sitting at the Bureau of Suspended Objects desk and slumping down into her chair
exhaustion at the bureau