Parked in UCL's main quad on Gower Street, an old school double-decker bus houses Object Retrieval, a new interdisciplinary art project by Joshua Sofaer. A single item from the university’s Museums and Collections is being exhibited in hopes of attracting the insight of experts from various fields as well as the knowledge of everyday passers-by. Organisers hope to accrue a network of information about the object, from the anecdotal to the hyper-scientific, that will continue to grow for the seven-day duration of the project.
On display is a toy car, licked clean of paint, and its accompanying medical case study notes detailing the lead poisoning of a four year old who demonstrated signs of pica—a medical condition in which the sufferer possesses an appetite for non-nutritive substances, in this case paint. On our visit, a curmudgeonly Professor Plum look-a-like was vehemently arguing against the validity of the project, suggesting that mathematical formulas and science experiments could provide all that researchers could care to know about the object. (As we cowered under his icy stare, a well-informed volunteer played Colonel Mustard and shot his single-minded perspective down to size.)
Contrary to the mindset of our professor, the website, where people can submit their own information about the toy car and medical notes, already details strands of the item’s social biography. The site seems to be the crux of the collaborative project, where people can build on each other’s ideas, whether they are stories about other pica sufferers, legal documents from similar cases of lead poisoning, or a CT scan of the car.
Although even the artist admits the task of mapping the entire social and scientific biographies of the object might be ‘endless’, the project’s main point, it seems, is the act of collaboration: what happens when you bring together minds from such diverse specialisations and focus them on the same item? Only time will tell, but we suggest you throw your own grey matter into the mix. If you can’t swing by UCL, do check out the website to bring your own expertise to the project.
Object Retrieval is open 24 hours a day until Wednesday when it wraps up with a Midnight Feast from 11pm to 1 am.
By Rob Lederer