You won't help but notice there is something beyond the obvious.
Which could be a relatable object? One that is widespread and equally diverse enough to have different manifestations and simultaneous meanings? How could an object with these traits reveal a unifying truth about the nature of those who interact with such an object?
I asked my uncle for ideas after many days of thought and wrestling with my mind to come up with an object of study. As if I had asked a question as easy as what time it was, he instantly replied with a ridiculing tone “Necklaces! Duh! Everyone wears these!” as he shook his silver necklace with his right hand while holding a pisco sour on the other. My jaw dropped, grabbed my pencil, and began taking brainstorming notes. My light bulb got lit, and so I began making questions about these objects we tie around our necks to my family, friends (on video calls), and Instagram followers as a way to absorb deeper insights.
I know exactly what you’re thinking. That there’s nothing relevant to highlight about these objects because their appearance seems to be completely innocent. I argue otherwise, because if you look beyond the object itself and contemplate the human dynamics abstractly performed around these objects, you can’t help but notice there is something beyond the obvious.
I will try my best to move away from sharing my discoveries related to the metaphysical nature of this object and, first... take a step back in order to observe what these things tied around our necks, from an utterly material perspective, actually are.
They an be acquired by a transaction, bought in a store, received as a gift, it can be passed on from one generation to the other, found on the street, etc. These objects can be made out of a wide variety of materials: from organic materials, organic strings, to more durable materials such as hard metals like gold, silver, pearls, hard stones, etc.
This is where it gets the most interesting. When we begin exploring the special meanings and symbolizations these objects stand for. Some examples are that it marks a symbolized moment of transition (for example from being single to being married, a first communion or a graduation gift as transition into adult life), a fond memory, a special moment in life, an anniversary gift, a symbol of eternal love, or maybe just a random decorative piece of jewelry selected by no further reason beyond its aesthetics.
So, what is more important than the things we tie around our necks?
Which messages? You might be thinking, "I see no text anywhwere!"
Whatever we carry around our necks cant't help but communicate an implicit mesage to the world about our status, fashion inclinations, religion, security, power relations, hierarchies, tradition, superstition, pride, security (allergies), tribute to someone else, extension of someone else or one self, remembrance for a special moment (marriage, first communion), etc.
As you can tell, my uncle and I were fascinated at the discoveries we made as our conversation progressed. What had initially been seen as a simple necklace, after some thought, became a topic of conversation, which then turned out to be my research question and later got transformed into this whole analysis about what it is that lays beyond the objects we tie around our necks.
I have something wrapped around my neck: a gold chain with a sun attached to it. Initially, this was superficially just another piece of jewelry, a decorative piece that reminded me of my grandmother but then, after this analysis, turned out being a conduit of a much deeper message. The significance I hold to this piece of jewelry tied around my neck is a symbol of eternal presence and awareness, just like the sun’s. I like to identify with its traits of warmth, light, positivity and long lasting image of wholeness.
So now the question leans towards what is more important than the object we are tying around our necks today? Remember, it serves as a conduit of communication with the outer world. Are you willing to embrace the messages communicated beyond the visual appearance of the things you are wrapping around your neck? Does that object living over chest align with your heart?
Thank you for reading! I'd love to know if this article rung a bell or made you smile on the commentbox!
This article was originally an object ethnography for a Research Ethics, Methods and Design Seminar by Dr. Amir Shiva. Special thanks to my instructor for always encouraging us to find the ordinary in the extraordinary, and vice versa.