Whether in production, in use, when something is lost or needs to be repaired, a thing always grows a kind of destiny: “Objects are given away, sold and auctioned, loved and kept, collected and exhibited, they disappear and are found again, they are stolen and sometimes returned. They travel the world or lie in drawers and storage for years. They break, are thrown away, restored and recycled.” So each thing has its own story. But, asks the “Museum of Things” in Berlin, “can things also tell their own lives?” What is part of their object biography, what is mere interpretation? “A proud teapot and a homeless drum,” reads the announcement, “a warlike chamber pot and an antique gold coin, Goethe’s shoe buckle and Lou Reed’s wax doll, a depressed cell phone, Kafka’s Odradek, Bernd the Bread and 50 other things” provide answers through Sept. 1 in the exhibition “The Story of My Life. Object Biography as Concept, Method and Genre.”
Things also have a life, the thesis goes. Which is why it is of interest to explore and tell their biography where they are produced and consumed or collected and stored. The concept of object biography was “invented” in 1929 by the Russian writer Sergei Tretyakov. However, it was not until 1986 that the anthropologist Igor Kopytoff introduced it to science. Object biography makes it possible to “combine different stages, events and relationships in the life of a thing into a narrative,” while also revealing “what is not yet known about materiality, whereabouts or ownership.”
In a playful and experimental way, the exhibition aims to tell the story of object biography in four chapters, fanning out its applications through numerous examples and showing what we “see with it, what would otherwise remain hidden from us, who it benefits, and why it appeals to us.” The “varied and critical ‘story’ of object biography” was curated by Ann-Sophie Lehmann (University of Groningen) and Imke Volkers of the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge, with the collaboration of Alexander Renz (Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge).
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