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The Bureau of Suspended Objects
2015, ongoing

 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

The Bureau of Suspended Objects is a one-person organization and archive that was 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. From June to September 2015, objects in the B.S.O. archive existed physically at the office location (at the dump). 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). The B.S.O. has also collected and archived unwanted objects through residencies at the Palo Alto Art Center and Facebook.

>> visit the online archive here <<

Activities of the B.S.O. stem from the assumption that we are estranged even from those objects closest to us, or that their inner workings and past lives are too often experienced as opaque and inaccessible. As such, research at the B.S.O. involves learning to "read" and understand an object on its own terms -- to understand why and how it came into being.

In general, the B.S.O. seeks to:
• photographically archive as many discarded or about-to-be discarded objects as is reasonably possible during the time span of the residency
• research archived objects in an attempt to document the objects’ origins, materials, use, and previous/possible lives
• understand the changing symbolic role(s) of objects in their owners' lives as well as the accumulation and dispersal of emotional weight
• reframe the objects not as items in a static and irreversible category (trash) but as 1) inflection points in an ongoing flow of material and 2) specific products of constantly changing economic contingencies
• use photography and research to embody an attitude toward objects that is at once fascinated, sorrowful, and diagnostic
• articulate the role of images in manufacturing our desire for objects and explore the interchangeability of objects with their images
• use the archival function of photography – its protest against “time’s relentless melt” (Sontag) – ironically, given that nothing discarded ever truly goes away.

An exhibition of the BSO 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.

The above was shown as an augmented reality print. Download the free Layar app, center the image on your screen, and scan it with your phone to see a text overlay of manufacturing origins.

The Bureau in progress:

photo: Kelly Lau

with other artists in residence, Chris Sollars and Roger Ourthiague (photo: Micah Gibson)

exhaustion at the bureau

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