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The Creative Life

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Detailed Description and Review

Extra/Ordinary Objects 1 and 2 3 out of 5 stars

Publisher: TASCHEN
Editors: Carlos Mustienes, Giuliana Rando, and Valerie Williams

book cover 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1 and 2' show photos of objects from around the world, ranging from an Oxygen pollution helmet for babies to an Eco-Coffin that folds into a bag and can be carried on your shoulder...

Detailed Description

From the Publisher

Things, objects, stuff, trinkets, tools, materials, gadgets, the things we use, abuse, throw away, cherish, depend on: these are the things we own, simple objects for our everyday lives. They may or may not hold special meaning to us, but their importance, as objects of cultural identity, is unmistakable.

Produced by COLORS under the direction of Oliviero Toscani, famous for his controversial Benetton campaigns, Extra/Ordinary Objects is a humorous and educational guide to stuff from all over the world.


3 out of 5 stars


Although 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1' and 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 2' are sold separately and focus upon different themes, their presentation, editorial, and overall attitude is identical, and they are therefore being reviewed here as a set.

The books present a range of objects that surprise, disorientate, and delight the reader. The editorial input flits from seriousness to an often amused and mocking tone, and despite its deeply flawed commentary, Extra/Ordinary Objects 1 and 2 encourage the reader to re-examine their relationship, presumptions, and preoccupations with their own object world. One consideration to bear in mind if the books are to be viewed in a family context is that they contain photos of sexual objects that may cause offence.

The World As Object

The title 'Extra/Ordinary Objects' is well chosen. Many of the objects presented in these books are indeed ordinary in their usual cultural or social setting. It is only when the objects are presented in a 'gallery of curiosities' to a predominantly Western ethnocentric audience, that they are perceived of as extraordinary.

Welcoming Cat The first object in 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1' is a Welcome Cat from Japan. The short editorial comment that hovers above this mass produced, culturally specific symbol, states 'According to Japanese tradition, manekinekos (beckoning cats) are supposed to bring good luck to households - they also beckon guests to come in'. This statement may appear innocuous enough, but TASCHEN, the publishers, target their books to a particular kind of audience, and given their demographic, the choice of object will likely be viewed of as 'Kitch'.

Perhaps it is the phrase 'are supposed to bring good luck...' rather than offering a more neutral choice of words like 'are viewed as bringing good luck...' that lay bare the editors underlying approach to the presentation of objects in these books.

Kitsch (or kitch) is originally from the German word meaning 'trash' although more recently the word has been used to describe objects of poor taste and usually poor quality. I'm not suggesting that the books are full with kitch, they're not. The first page in any book however indicates the books intent, and it's clear from this and the following pages, that we're in for a tour of objects from a particular mindset that appears to know a little, yet asserts a lot...

'...kitsch is synonymous with objects of bad taste that are so bad they're good in an ironic way. In the fifties and sixties kitsch was - and still is - highly collectable. Kitsch can be anything from flying ducks to Elvis toilet roll holders.'
BBC News Online.

Extra/Ordinary Objects 1 and 2 however are interesting as they present a particular view of the world which dominate much of the West's attitude to cultural objects that are outside its sphere. A view of the world which categorises objects in an amused, superior way, with a smattering of popular science, morality, and assumed authority.

Political Point Scoring

The books take objects that fall roughly into one of several general 'object themes': food and physical consumption; pets; articles of dress; apparel; spiritual and religious; childhood; sexual; playthings, dolls, and idols; green and political issues.

There are many occasions when objects are chosen to make simplistic political points, and it is on these occasions that the book is at its weakest.

Watch and Sculpture A typical example of flagging up a political issue with a moral perspective appears towards the end of 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1'.

A photo of a watch on page 184 includes the following commentary:

'In Tienanmen Square Beijing, Chinese soldiers opened fire on demonstrators on June 3, 1989. The government said that 300 people were killed; independent estimates put the death toll into thousands. Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister, was 'appalled by the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed people'. Polish leader Lech Walesa called it 'brutal genocidal violence'. The People's Government of Beijing took a different view. It commissioned this watch, bought from a Beijing street vendor, 'in commemoration of the suppression of the turmoil in June 1989'.

This would be an interesting launch pad for a discussion about how objects are used to serve the propaganda machines of states and commercial interests, but as an isolated statement it achieves little other than to titillate our sense of moral outrage.

The photo of a cheap souvenir depicting the statue of Venus that appears on the facing page sits very uncomfortably next to what was a tragic and terrifying moment for the students at Tienanmen Square. The commentary associated with the statue attempts to touch upon the value of objects by briefly retelling the story of how in 1820 the original statue of Venus was purchased as a souvenir for $45 US. The editorial implies this was an insignificant amount, when in reality $45 was a great deal of money and represented far more than a years average wage at the time. The commentary ends with the phrase 'The authentic cheap souvenir shown costs $17.80 at the Louvre shop'. As readers we are invited to smile wryly at the irony of this. I however felt the choice of objects that appear side by side was a tasteless editorial decision. This is just one of many instances that shows an insensitivity to the placement of object images.

The Introduction by Peter Gabriel sets the scene ' our objects you will know us'. Perhaps a little, but not wholly, and this is were the book falls well short of fulfilling its potential.

There's no doubt 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 1' and 'Extra/Ordinary Objects 2' set the mind working, but their continual flitting from one subject to the next with short 'blasts of evidence' that support a point here, an observation there, undermines the book's overall effectiveness.

Objects reflect society and our personal worlds. There are many occasions we view unfamiliar objects as threatening or amusing, but at all times they are significant, despite our proclamations as otherwise.
Pet Pills: Pet Trim Weight Loss

I'm all for dealing with serious subject matters, but I feel editors and writers have a responsibility to ensure these issues are covered in a balanced and more complete fashion than the superficial moralistic tone the books so often conveys.

The editorial appears confused in its aims. Are these books light hearted views of our object world, or a serious political commentary that takes objects as the starting point for further moral and political discussion? No doubt the editors would say they're both, but in this I feel they've failed. Given the high volume of objects featured in the books that are used for serious comment, the editors needed to show far more respect of cultural differences and practices rather than attempting to amuse. Objects are only funny when viewed in context, it's our own context that makes them that way...

Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

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