An Object is just an Object, or is it?

By examining the art of Christian Boltanski and Joseph Beuys this paper will argue that successful associations can be made with the larger collective memory through the use of insignificant, inauthentic objects. This analysis will be completed within the theoretical concepts of memory defined by Marcel Proust and Maurice Halbwach.


Boltanski | Beuys | Memory | Healing | Objects | Halbwach | Proust


The artists Christian Boltanskiand Joseph Beuys are adept at fostering illusion, an apocryphal narrative and false re-imagining of historical recollection. Deliberately revealing seemingly irrelevant objects as historical artefacts where unconscious associations established through individual relationships and personal memories of these unimportant objects and the associated circumstances. Both suggest that ordinary materials and commonplace objects are inherent to our everyday lives and profoundly integral to our unconscious minds.

Marcel Proust advocates that our forgotten memories are buried somewhere in our subconscious beyond our conscious minds. He evidently asserts that these concealed associations with the forgotten past can resurface through our unique interactions with material objects.

In his final novel ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’ Proust recounts the emotional moment he savours a madeleine soaked in hot tea, his Proustian Moment. The Madeleine appears as a personal memento of his subconscious mind involuntarily accentuating his previously obscured correlations between his heightened senses, emotional perceptions and his own memory.

Maurice Halbwach theorises that our individual recollections not only contribute to our personal identity but our proper place in civilized society. Plausibly suggesting that the conscious mind will seemingly reconstruct our forgotten memories within the confines of acceptable societal interaction. We invariable associate with those who typically have similar remembrance, yet our personal recall of historical events can be dissimilar from the collective remembrance.

This research paper aims to clarify that involuntary recall of a historical event can happen naturally with no first-hand experience and on direct interaction with a familiar object. The fundamental notion that seemingly irrelevant, inauthentic yet commonplace objects can be utilised as emotional triggers becoming characteristically memorable when put into a critical context. Thus, actively stimulating remembrance and emotional healing.

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