—1— Observing “America” through everyday objects

Pascal Glissmann, Selena Kimball — Co-directors, Observational Practices Lab, Parsons, The New School New York

The Observational Practices Lab, Parsons School of Design, aims to provoke dialogue and instigate critical reflection about the very nature of observation across disciplinary boundaries. Observation is fundamental to ways of knowing, yet it is rarely investigated as a set of comparative methods and contingent practices. Initiated by questions arising out of art and design practice, the lab is driven by transdisciplinary and collaborative learning through experimental approaches to research. We aim to foster a non-hierarchical engagement with diverse modes of observation in order to investigate its past effects, present consequences and potential in creating the future.

As a response to recent changes in the political landscape, the Observational Practices Lab, initiated the research project OBJECT AMERICA to explore the idea of “America” through everyday objects. We invited Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, to choose an object she believed would represent “America” into the future. Thirteen researchers from very different disciplinary backgrounds, from climate science to poetry, investigated this object. The observational methods that emerge throughout the duration of this project are documented and disseminated publicly in order to inspire new ways of seeing and contribute to the conversation about who and what is “America”. This site is an in-process archive of these public forums to date.

What role will observation play in the future? How might it expose, elucidate—or speak back to—systems of power and politics? The Observational Practices Lab is planning three more phases of OBJECT AMERICA in 18/19, 19/20 and 20/21. Our aim is to make the unseen visible, and speculate about the future of America, through three new “American” objects housed in different types of US collections. During this era of the Trump administration, we seek to create a platform for open exchange, exploring other ways of seeing, in an environment of playful curiosity, intelligence, and mutual respect.

We would like to thank The New School Provost’s Office, and our colleagues and staff in Art, Media and Technology, and Art History & Design Theory, for their support. This research was supported by the Innovations in Education Fund Grant, the New School, and Cross-School Funding, Parsons, The New School. We would like to thank Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in New York for hosting our initial briefing session with Ellen Lupton. We also gratefully acknowledge our interdisciplinary panel of researchers and our students for their generous participation in helping us launch OBJECT AMERICA.