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Defending Useless Aspects of Urban Objectology

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I dare to think of a world without cities, i.e. a world with plenty of “clean, safe cities” and without abandoned objects to take or manipulate. This would imply that all footprints and stains, smells and textures, and all of the other wonders of reality that enrich our lives would disappear. Nowadays, despite town planning, by construction mafias that destroy urban life and communities, we can still stumble upon, step on and break things.

One undeniable fact about cities is that within them we are surrounded by lots of objects, at rest or in motion, conventional or unique. When we walk through any city (from one end to the other, walking in circles, aimlessly...) subconsciously we always need to grab something valuable; from the dump, from the stall... We at least think about the possibility of interacting.

All cities are governed by the domination of safety, neatness and cleanliness, which is aimed to establish better police control. Fortunately, in this period of capitalist decline there will always be garbage strikes, labor demonstrations, fierce winds, violent storms... and all of this will make destroyed objects emerge once and again, as objects displaced to areas where nobody would expect to find them.

Within the context of this permanent alteration of the urban environment, it is interesting not only to detect the amount of poetic radiance (as it occurs analogously with radioactive substances) emitted from any particular object, but also its degree of resonance, i.e. its degree of enchantment and transmission with respect to the surrounding objects, both in the sense of the poetic load generated by a certain desired object and of the extension of such energy – though it progressively diminishes during a dérive – and in the importance that such an object gains for us.

At first sight, nothing in the cities would seem to produce that kind of poetic radiance. But if one goes far into those apparently unexplored corners, if one observes with a different sight, he will realize that nowadays cities are full of useless objects. In this sense, classifying and tagging the poetic relevance of the objects that we find would be an interesting strategy for the subjective analysis of such places. For example, the Madrid Surrealist Group has developed activities related to the unexpected encounters with found objects. Very interesting are the “suicidal objects” of Noé Ortega, the “stolen object” by Antonio Ramírez, the “idle objects” of Javier Gálvez (also investigated by Eugenio Castro) or those ghostly, ectoplasmic objects of Lourdes Martínez. All of them sparked my interest.

So I decided to make a taxonomy of urban objects, which would be based on the evocative power of their usefulness or uselessness, their capacity for wonder, or their potential to become part of a constructed object. This classification was written on labels, on paper laminated with glue that were placed on the objects in question.

Here are some examples:

“An object that generates a vibrant silence around itself,” for example, left on a small wooden table, tall and narrow, on which I placed a rose found nearby.

“The object for which time passes too slowly,” assigned to a suitcase which stood ajar, containing letters and old clothes, observed next to a garbage can.

“Object capable of producing dream activity in the observer,” stuck in a broken wine bottle, at the foot of a shelf in a mall.

“Object at the service of the revolution,” a label that I also kept for a pair of scissors with a string tied to a computer at my workplace.

“The object of the police force” – a video surveillance camera.

“An object that accommodates the despotic impulses of instinct,” on a rotating globe – physical-political, broken, lying in a small meadow.

“Object to be part of a shaman’s horse,” on a striking iridescent purple shirt found in the middle of a road.

“An object that contributes to the knowledge of a foreign language,” which was affixed to an electrical appliance damaged and unrecognizable that I found down the street, perhaps bearing a slight similarity with a cassette tape.

This activity is accompanied by a map of the city where I indicated the discovery of certain objects, marking the area in question, depending on their type, using one color or another. This activity can certainly provide us with a better understanding and classification of the marvelous, as it is still currently found in the cities.

(Originally published in Salamandra #19-20, Madrid, 2011.)