What Do You Touch On A Daily Basis? The Movement Asking What Your Belongings Say About You

The Movement Asking What Your Belongings Say About You


by Contributor |
Published on

As I start to unpack my suitcase of 168 personal belongings in a brightly lit central London studio, I’m suddenly overwhelmed by a range of emotions that I hadn’t expected. I feel exposed; vulnerable; coy. Handing over my best set of bright red lacy undies to a photographer in front of a room full of strangers is akin to literally taking them off in front of all these people. Someone should have told me that my beaten up old slippers really shouldn’t be seen outside the house. And wow, that’s a lot of crystals. Yet I’m secretly rather proud to have so many pretty, pink and sparkly things, and,

I might say, excellent taste in mugs.

I’ve come here to meet Paula Zuccotti and her team to take part in her fascinating project, Everything We Touch – A 24-Hour Inventory of Our Lives. The premise is simple and the results, which are published in a new book out later this month, are really quite beautiful.

‘Imagine keeping a record of everything you touch in a day, from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep,’ explains Paula. ‘Now imagine gathering all those things together for a single photograph. What would that image say about you and your day?’

The idea is you write down each and every item you touch in a 24-hour period. While large things (cars, sofas, your front door, for example) are exempt, anything else should be noted. If you drink from three teacups during a day, for example, each of them should be itemised separately.

From handbags to keys, loo roll to stamps, it was interesting to see so much of my stuff laid out in one place, but more insightful was the psychological aspect of the project. The process of systematically logging and documenting the items I touched grounded me in the moment. It was strangely calming and therapeutic, like an exercise in mindfulness.

Paula, 40, who was born in Argentina and lives in London, is an ethnographer, industrial designer, trends forecaster and artist, and has spent the last six months travelling the world, capturing images of the objects people touch in the space of 24 hours. ‘While working at a design consultancy, I was always doing research, for example on how women use soap or deodorant,’ she says, ‘so I’ve always been really intrigued by the relationship between people and things. Humans have always used objects as an expression of who we are,’ Paula explains.

‘But suddenly the projects started to change; it seemed that objects were becoming more obsolete. For example, we no longer touch remote controls every day as we tend to watch television on our laptops or iPads. That’s only going to get worse. So I wanted to capture things as they are right now. I wanted to see this project as a picture of who we are as a civilisation in 2015.’

The book was compiled from a random and varied selection of people from countries in six continents, including Argentina, Australia, USA, China, Japan, England and Spain. The youngest person, Arlo in London, was one month old, and the oldest was Mr Liu, a 72-year-old shadow-puppet maker from Shanghai. The spreads of photographs are mesmerising.

I ask Paula who her favourite, stand-out candidates were. She mentions Vivienne, the 69-year-old drag queen from Tokyo who would initially have only her stage costumes photographed. ‘She took a lot of convincing not to show just her stage persona, but in the end she was amazed.’

Other highlights included Eitaro, the 32-year-old male geisha who runs his late mother’s geisha house in Tokyo, and Piedad, the 44-year-old nun from Madrid who, after 22 years inside a convent, could only bring herself to hand over her habit and Bible to be photographed. ‘She felt too exposed to show anything else,’ says Paula.

And then there was Carlos, a 48-year- old mariachi musician from Phoenix. ‘Carlos was hilarious,’ recalls Paula, laughing. ‘He had spent his evening with his girlfriend and he then brought seven extra-large condoms to the shoot! I said, “We can’t feature seven! You’ll look ridiculous and so will I!” So we settled on three. They are the last things he touched that day. The first thing was his Bible!’

Although I fought against it, I was conscious of ‘faking’ my items for the shoot, choosing pieces to create perfect pictures or to make me look good. For example, I chose to wear my favourite new gold Topshop skirt and amazing Louboutin heels – not to mention the red undies – and borrowed a heavenly sparkly bolero from my friend Fran (who runs a vintage website), as I knew this would look good on the page. Knowing it would come back to haunt me, I ensured I ate very well (and wasn’t quite so honest about my alcohol consumption on that Saturday evening at my friend Ben’s birthday. One bottle of red it was not).

Looking at the objects laid out on the floor, I’m struck by the things I touched that I hadn’t expected. For example I helped my hairdresser Donald pick up some foils when I was having my highlights done. I had a hangover when I woke up and weirdly craved Ribena. I learned that my friend Becky clearly knows my taste the best, as both my make-up bag and hand mirror were gifts from her.

And once I had made my inventory and had time to reflect, I suddenly felt uncomfortable, like my day was rather indulgent – the meditation, followed by a run, the mags read at Neville’s. Yes, I had chosen a social Saturday, but I didn’t feel like it had much depth. Apart from writing a thank you letter for a wedding and buying a birthday card, it was all about me and this unnerved me and also, perhaps, tapped into some deeper insecurities.

‘A lot of people said it felt like therapy,’ says Paula. ‘And we had a lot of people seeing things in their day that they would like to see change, like no more cigarettes. I would often ask people if I was to come back in five years, what would they like to see. I remember one lady said she would like to see baby products and garments.’

And rather like visiting a shrink, I drew comfort from the analysis Paula and her team offered. For having exposed myself so honestly, receiving equally honest feedback was somewhat enlightening.

When I put it to them that I was a bit embarrassed that my day was so ‘all about me’, they had a different view. What did they see? Paula and her colleague, Clarisa, were unanimous. ‘Freedom!’

I hadn’t seen it like that, but on reflection, I guess I am very grateful for my freedom, and perhaps it is something I take for granted. So thank you, Paula, your project has certainly touched my life.

Everything We Touch: A 24-Hour Inventory Of Our Lives (£20, Viking) is out on 19 November.

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