“How would you capture the central principle of your research?”

I have been thinking for the past couple of days of what topic would be appropriate to write about? The fact that I have also been asked by a professor “How would you capture the central principle of your research” didn’t help too much either – even though one should be able to answer confidently at such a direct question, I couldn’t.

So, while thinking about the fact that maybe my research interests come along the way, and they grow together/change/become along a certain case study, I realised that I had at hand 2 perfect projects to talk about (as they simply invite to a similar pattern of approaching case studies). One is a Photography project, and the other Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Both of them challenge ones imagination, by taking you on a journey into memories and yet to be discovered stories.

As a trained archaeologist, I am usually confronted with the question: “how should one approach an object from the past?”. Of course I don’t refer here to the popular image of Archaeology – as the subject dealing with unearthing antique things-, but to Archaeology as a method: what stories can one tell starting from the mere materialiality of that thing? What can you tell by simply looking at things that at some point shared a destiny? If we follow this line of thought, anything can be viewed as a repository of memory and stories, or better said it can become the pretext to start unwinding traces and threads of the past.

To start with the first example, Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence is an atypical museum (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2012/apr/27/orhan-pamuk-museum-innocence-pictures; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/books/orhan-pamuk-opens-museum-based-on-his-novel-in-istanbul.html). It is a novel’s museum. Even more, it is a love story’s museum: objects that appear in the novel and join the 2 lovers along their story, are gathered in here. You can see from old clocks, film clips, soda bottles and clothes, to cigarette butts and games. 4,213 all in all. And this is what Archaeology is all about (only that in this case Pamuk had the story first, and collected the objects afterwords). Why is it so? Because these objects are the ruins of some past events and memories, who now exist only through them. They are the proof that something happened. And we have a nice pretext to imagine how it happened; What type of relationships could have existed between these objects? What would have involved to wear a dress with a certain cut, to spend your time by playing traditional games or by seeing certain things while walking the streets of Istanbul 40 years ago? How might the social relations have looked like, if they were constructed along these parameters?

The second case is  called “FAMILY LINE-UPS. Trans-generational Encounters in Family Photography” (http://www.familylineups.com/about/ ). Starting from family photographs, the aim of this project is to “examine the role of family photography in the process of the inter-generational transmission of memory, with a focus on the manner in which exile acted on the structure of the family and the coherence of its genealogy”. In other words, photographs are taken to be the material witnesses of unlived family histories, that can/or not “enable a dialogue with the dead or absent”. As it can be seen, this project has a very similar take on how one can relate to things: as means of story-telling.

The strength of both projects is not that they propose “objects contain their history in themselves”, but quite the opposite: stories can be imagined only by putting the objects back in their context, among the other things with which they shared a time. To see what type of world-view would have been created by the use of such things. In the end, it is this focus on relationships that needs to be built among things and people that can lead to a better understanding of those stories.

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