The Observational Practices Lab, Parsons, (co-directed by Pascal Glissmann and Selena Kimball) launches a multi-phase project and investigation, OBJECT AMERICA, to explore the idea of “America” through everyday objects. The aim is to use comparative research and observational methods—which may range from the scientific to the absurd—to expose unseen histories and speculate about the future of the country as a concept. The contemporary global media landscape is fast-moving and undercut by “fake news” and “alternative facts” which demands that students and researchers build a repertoire of strategies to assess and respond to sources of information.
For the first phase of OBJECT AMERICA launching in the fall of 2017, we invited Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, to choose an object for this investigation which she believed would represent “America” into the future (she chose the Model 500 Telephone by Henry Dreyfuss designed in 1953). Researchers will investigate this object through different disciplinary lenses — including art, climate science, cultural geography, data visualization, economics, history of mathematics, medicine, media theory, material science, music, poetry, and politics — in order to posit alternative ways of seeing.
The project develops its own visual framework while it unfolds. There is no branding handbook or style guide. Instead, there is a growing repertoire of elements that is inspired by research, the object and the process. The unwrapping of the objects — sent by e-bay sellers from all over the country — was a striking experience. It offered a visual and ethnographic journey into the history of “America” while surprising with artifacts from current politics to pop culture.