One Family of Objects

One Family of objects, 2010, a collective reading from the exhibition Forms of Affect: Goodbye Sadness, Desire, Lasstude, Appetite, Pleasure, La Galerie, Noisy-le-Sec, 2014, photo: author's archive

[...] I still have vivid memories of standing next to some of the owners of the machines, looking at the two-inch monitor of a small digital camera; of how moments of reality gradually appeared to us one by one, merely through the action of pressing an insignificant button with an arrow; moments of reality that had occurred but a few seconds previously. Fascinated, we were transfixed by those pictures; with just a vague idea of how this miracle had transpired. Absolutely disarmed; without the possibility of comparing this experience with our established stereotypes. At that moment we were equal: in our ignorance. Defenceless like children, we simply feasted our eyes on the images. Thanks to this ritual I was able to get what I wanted, without being aware of its existence and hidden rules. Thus I found relief from internal tension in sharing the photographs of the machines from Škoda Klatovy. By actively participating in their creation we gradually established a mutual communication. In breaking through social barriers, I finally glimpsed what kind of relationship these people have with their objects.
A small group of owners had purchased their machines for sentimental reasons, even though they themselves claimed otherwise. One could tell by the way they talked about them. It’s also apparent from the photographs themselves. In particular that concerns Jan Boublík and Jaroslav Stupka. (In certain respects, the name Oto Huřčák should also be mentioned here, but this is somewhat of a dilemma for me. On the one hand he owns several machines from the end of the nineteenth and the start of twentieth century. On the other, he was unable to take decent pictures of his machine; they’re blurred. I don’t know what to think of his relationship to them.) From conversations with these people it transpired that they had repaired their machines, but hardly ever used them. For them they serve as aesthetic objects with a historical and a collector’s value. They are symbols of the stories of their lives, monuments to their own past. The other owners work on their machines and do not perceive them as objects with their own intrinsic value, which would somehow exceed their practical purpose. They were constructed to process material, designed to be a means of earning a living. Although even their relationship with the machines could grow into something very personal, it would never occur to them to take a picture of that kind of object. For them they are unsightly objects. The way they captured their machines on photographs corresponds to this. Most of the owners took pictures of their machines from the viewpoint they have of them while working. I tried to motivate them to take several pictures of their machines, without deliberately stimulating them to change the composition. The result was the same every time: a view of the part of the machine facing the machinist at work. That’s because they perceive the given objects purely on the basis of the relationship between machine and operator. For if they were to admit that their machines had an aesthetic quality, the idea of the accumulation of means of production would lose sense for them, and that would exclude them from the process of participating in any kind of economic system. (Although there is also another kind of accumulation of objects: collecting. But that’s a completely different kind of ownership than that which is the theme of this book). These two different ideas about machines cannot be brought together. They are contradictory.

In making repeated efforts to interpret these photographs, I realised that some of the former workers were still mutually interconnected by a certain awareness of solidarity, the shared experience of many years of working in the same company, as well as the fact that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for them to adapt to the new situation. They had renounced the ideas offered by contemporary elites. They had turned their backs on them with the knowledge that they could not fulfil them. Members of this imaginary community share several hallmarks: age (most owners are between 45 and 85 years old), the awareness of not belonging in the system of democratic capitalism and a lack of loyalty to it (manifested by an aversion to contributing to it from their own profits), and, in particular, a negative appraisal of the post-communist era.

Every change of political system produces winners and losers. In this case the losers are highly qualified workers, on whom the ideology of the former regime had bestowed the status of an imaginary elite. During the last twenty years, however, these people have lost the illusion of being exceptional and have been forced to adapt to the newly established political and economic rules, within which, however, there is a diametrically different social status predefined for them – that of being replaceable. No one looked after them during the major privatisation. They lost their jobs, and with them their place in the new world. [...]

Available for purchase at the JRP Edition online bookstore.