I enjoyed the Reliquary Museum a lot, though the reasons weren’t instantly obvious to me. I generally don’t like visiting museums where static objects are on display, but this was an exception. Here were some of my major takeaways that I tried to replicate in my own project:
- I really appreciated the lack of captions, and the context created in which that was OK. After creating many possibilities for visitors by curating an initial exhibit, visitors are left to pick out what they find most intriguing and then are welcomed to hear the story from and have a conversation with an actual person about it. Even if the museum had the space for it, a caption on each object would have contributed greatly to the museum fatigue I often feel with static exhibits. It was framed as an exploration, where the museum picked the broad location for my journey and I got to pick the stops along the way.
- The objects and their underlying stories shed light on something I didn’t know before or challenged me to consider the past in a new way. Museums are at their best when they challenge assumptions, and I think the Reliquary Museum did a good job of this.
For this week’s project, I wanted to flesh out an idea that’s been in the back of my mind since my first semester and has been brought to the fore following the museum visit. Military uniforms have a great number of pockets, literally from head to toe (or ankle, but close enough). Pockets themselves are interesting because they immediately allow for the surprise of discovery. My idea this week is a live performance: wear a uniform with pockets filled with objects, allow people to pull them out (an uncomfortable and intimate interaction), and be there to share stories, answer questions, and engage in conversation.
I only have immediate access to pants, which is good because crafting the number of interactions needed for a full uniform’s worth of pockets would be hard to pull off in a week. If I had to choose one half to use for prototyping, it would be pants anyways, as it creates the discomfort of reaching into my pockets more acutely than the top would have. The pants have 6 pockets (these seem to not be regulation, as those have 8; this pair is missing the ankle pockets eta: if you include the pouches for knee pads, the number comes up to 10).
These are the 6 objects that I’m working with this week, and the kinds of stories I would craft around them during a performance (though the conversation might go other places, as dictated by the user’s wishes):
This book is one of the first things issued to new soldiers. This is my copy, with my notes in it. There isn’t any one particular story associated with this object. It’s more a collection of stories that together make up the first few weeks of transition from civilian to military. This object is content heavy, and as a result there are a wide range of stories depending on what within strikes someone as important.
The letters are the most personal objects in the pockets. Though folks are free to read and ask about the content of the letters, the story connected with them is not about the content itself. The letters represented contact with the outside world in a stressful environment where other contact was limited. Personal time and space to read them was also limited. The letters became important as a symbol for connection to the outside world, and as a result I would read them most days in a bathroom stall (the only place I had privacy, and a good time to multitask and do my business while reading), even if I had already read them a hundred times.
The name tape is worn on the uniform for identification purposes. The story I’d choose to tell would concern the first time wearing the uniform. It’s a moment that you look forward to with a sense of pride and excitement. The actual process itself, though, is pretty terrible. Each piece is thrown to you assembly line style as you move through a large warehouse. At the end, you have a really short period of time to throw it all in a bag and go. You aren’t given any time to reflect or feel what you were expecting.
I anticipate stories pertaining to identity and the uniformity of the military would also arise.
I’ve used this object in many of my projects at ITP because it’s really interesting to me. It’s a requirement that you carry it at all times (an “inspectable item,” you can be punished for not having it on you while in uniform). The card itself is representative of the Army’s attempts to erase problems with bureaucracy – ACE is a suicide intervention program and the card is part of a series of ongoing briefings. Carrying it on you doesn’t mean that you know how to intervene in a suicide situation, nor does having gone through a brief. For the Army, however, it’s enough for them to check off boxes. There are similar solutions to other programs (SHARP, the sexual assault prevention program chief among them).
The business cards for two of my recruiters are the catalyst for a “challenging assumptions” story. Many people, especially of a more liberal persuasion, have a negative perception of the military’s recruiters and recruiting tactics. To some degree, they are correct in that assumption, but not entirely. The idea that the military signs people up quickly without making them aware of what they are doing is false – for a variety of reasons, it took more than 18 months for me to ship to training after first speaking with a recruiter (this is atypically long, but it is still my story). At one point, almost nine months in and when I had a potentially large job offer on the table, my recruiter told me he’d be fine if I backed out.
This object’s stories pertain more to my time since leaving the military. The Mission Continues is a veteran service organization that provides service and social opportunities for veterans. It’s provided me with an important social group outside of ITP, and there are many stories about my involvement (and about veterans in NYC and around the country – their needs, desires, etc.).