Edinburgh College of Art
Appadurai proposes that the circulation of commodities in social life can be summarised in the follow way. ‘Economic exchange creates value. Value is embodied in commodities that are exchanged. Focusing on things that are exchanged, rather than simply on the forms or functions of exchange, makes it possible to argue that what creates the link between exchange and value is politics.’ (1986, p.3) Since Marx and the early political economists, there has been little mystery about the relationship between politics and the production of commodities. Economic models drive forward consumption, where goods follow the traditional teleology of cradle to grave. This paper poses the question: what economies are created if memory, not politics, becomes the link between exchange and value?
Proust states that ‘consumer goods aren’t really consumed at all – but experienced, either in memory or right now, as key elements of identity itself’ (1927 cited in Kwint, et al., 1999, p.xiii). In western traditions, objects serve memory in three main ways. Firstly they furnish recollection; they constitute our picture of the past. Secondly, objects stimulate remembering, not only through the deployed mnemonics of public monuments or mantelpiece souvenirs, but also by the serendipitous encounter bringing back experience which otherwise would have remained dormant, repressed or forgotten. Thirdly, objects form records: analogues to living memory, storing information beyond individual experience (Kwint, et al., 1999, p.2).
It is clear that memories are intrinsically linked with objects; time and memory are embodied or encoded in our perception of everyday things. Draaisma refers to memories as a ‘store of precious items’ (2000, p.2) and like objects they too have a lifetime, part of a persons own cradle to grave cycle. The advancement of technology from development of writing surfaces, to photography and cinematography, Edison’s phonograph and now a days numerous ‘artificial’ memories assist us in ‘arming ourselves against the transience implicit in the mortality of memory’ (Draaisma, 2000, p.2) by recording what the eye and ear take in.
This paper examines whether the latest advancement of tagging technologies in the manufacturing process, designed to streamline economic supply chains, can unexpectedly become a new platform for memory storage and transform inert objects into vessels that allow for the imprint of experience to be shared over time. Is this the moment where objects move beyond the material value to their owner, or the corporation that built them, and instead become desirable artefacts that challenge our ideas of value in this consumer society?
Appadurai, A., (1986). Introduction: commodities and the politics of value. In A. Appadurai, ed. The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 1.
Kwint, M., Breward, C., Aynsley, J., (1999) Material Memories, Design and Evocation. Oxford: Berg
Draaisma, D., (2000) Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas About the Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press