Write an Ode to an Object: Akiko Busch
Last night I attended a talk by author Akiko Busch at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Busch writes about design, culture and the natural world and her books include Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live, The Uncommon Life of Common Objects: Essays on Design and the Everyday , and Nine Ways to Cross a River.
In her talk, Busch talked about the relationship of language to how we engage with things. The first part of her talk focused on how writing about an object gives a new rich perspective. She shared numerous examples and citations from literature, poetry, which included the book Robinson Caruso, John Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez, and writings of Pablo Neruda.
Busch continued to talk about the value and power of describing things – and about the relationship of making and writing. The history of this idea came from a course she taught a number of years ago in which students had to make various objects including a bowl and door handle – and they had to write an ode to each object. The students learned how writing is a way to understand and connect to the object, making the subject larger and richer.
“The material and lyrical are mutually informative and are two different ways to get to something,” Busch said. She continued to describe how making is thinking – and how making and writing work well together to expand perspectives.
She described how the haptic experience takes precedence over other experiences – and talked specifically about doors. She had observed at libraries and other buildings that there is sometimes a written sign would be posted that warns visitors that a door can open suddenly, to push or pull, or some other written instruction. She also observed that people would continually not read the sign – and would push or pull the door, or try to enter the wrong doorway.
She described how she spoke to designer Michael Bierut about this – and he shared his perspective that the physical cues override others (such as the written sign.) She went on to share that any written sign on an object is an admission of failure, and that any visitor is going to usually ignore the sign – and push the door, go in the wrong door etc. – since we hang onto the expectations that things announce themselves.
“We think with the objects we love and we love with the objects we think with,” Busch said in her closing comments.
She then urged the audience to spend time writing an ode to an object, or a “recipe” about the object – in order to better understand the object that you are working on.
I am currently working on some creative resistance umbrellas for my Stretch Your Paycheck interactive performance – and plan to write an ode to the umbrella before I start on the design of the graphics for the orange and red umbrellas in my studio.
An Ode to an Umbrella…