A fragment from Pompeii . . . the cornerstone of Sir John Soane’s collection.
We cohabit this world with objects. Humans and objects are not so different. Just like us, they are created, live a life, and go through a process of decay, before returning to the earth. Unlike us, however, some objects have the potential to exist for very long periods of time.
We are not just ourselves, but all the objects we create and surround ourselves with (clothes, possessions, furniture etc.). Anthropologist Alfred Gell describes this as distributed personhood. These things have the potential to mediate human agency and communicate with people long after the creator or collector has died.
In the case of Sir John Soane’s Museum, Number 13 Lincoln’s Inn Field and the things inside it continue to mediate Sir John’s agency and stand as a physical manifestation of his personhood. Each artefact, or fragment for that matter, tells a story and have both a physical place in the museum and a mental place in Sir John’s memory or personhood.
Each object in the museum is vying for the visitor’s attention. Boring looking objects are often overlooked despite having the most important stories to tell.
L130 is such an object. This small, red, fragment, is debatably the most important object in the collection being thought to be the only antique piece that the young Soane brought home from his two year Grand Tour. Even though it was not much more than a souvenir, it might be considered the starting point of the whole collection.
We have not seen this object, it is lost in the museum's labyrinth of objects and rooms. The catalogue on the website shed light upon its provenance. The collection is not arranged chronologically (in history or acquisition) so it is not obvious that L130 could have been the first object collected.
Nobody sees the Mona Lisa without having previously encountered some form of reproduction of it. The more times an image is reproduced, the greater the celebrity of its subject becomes. If a subject is replicated enough times it becomes an icon or logo embodying certain values or associations.
Sometimes replicas can lose touch with the semantic properties of the original. However, when implemented correctly they increase curiosity in the original, enticing the viewer to visit it and bask in its ‘aura'.
With the help of replicas, we would like to physically and metaphorically put L130 on a pedestal, celebrating its provenance and recognising the impact it had on Sir John Soane and his collection.
Collaboration with Charles Rickleton.