LEO BERKELEY
FILMMAKER

The Couches of my Neighbourhood

3 Dec 12

I’m planning a short video essay on hard rubbish, which focuses on a personal experience I had trying to get rid of an old couch.  Whenever I put it out for hard rubbish collection, someone would take it, then it would reappear further down the street a short while later.  So I have been taking photos of other people’s couches and armchairs on the footpath and the median strips of my neighbourhood, with the idea of including them in the video.  They appear surprisingly often.  My couch had an association with many important experiences in my life.  It was also extremely uncomfortable, which is why I wanted to get rid of it.

Ben Highmore’s book Ordinary Lives deals with the aesthetic and sensory experience of everyday life.  In one chapter he focuses on the world of ‘things’ and draws on the ideas of writers like Bruno Latour, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno to argue that understanding how we relate to inanimate objects is central to understanding both human experience and the world.  He talks in great depth about a chair of his, in an attempt to explore ways for understanding its ‘thing-ness’, that is both related to but also separate from his experience of the object.  He uses a great quote from Latour as part of his argument:

‘To balance our accounts of society, we simply have to turn our exclusive attention away from humans and look also at nonhumans.  Here they are, the hidden and despised social masses who make up our morality.  They knock at the door of sociology, requesting a place in the accounts of society as stubbornly as the human masses did in the nineteenth century.  What our ancestors, the founders of sociology, did a century ago to house the human masses in the fabric of social theory, we should now to find a place in a new social theory for the nonhuman masses that beg us for understanding’.

Latour, Bruno (1992) ‘Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts’, in Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, edited by Wiedee E. Bijker and John Law, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 225-58.

Here are a few abandoned couches and armchairs of my neighbourhood.  I’d like to know their stories.

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