Go back to article: Technologies of Romance: looking for ‘object love’ in three works of video art


In the text that initially motivated much of this process and introduced this project, Geoghegan and Hess implied that artists, curators and museologists today might not just scientifically cater for, organise, record and research the objects with which we deal, but that they (and we) also tend to ‘love’ them. Furthermore, we tend to do so in, perhaps, a new and special way that (as the author’s own writing, and the work of the video artists described above suggests) might be influenced by new technologies of digitisation and virtualisation.

These thoughts have led the author, and hopefully the reader too, along a widening path towards a variety of conclusions, which include the idea that our ‘love’ for such objects invariably involves a connection to, or fetishisation of the irretrievable past itself. We make of the past itself a ‘love object’ that we have lost, then award fetishistic values to objects and images that give us the tantalising sense of reaching for, connecting to, and approximating the past itself.

Mechanical, and then digital reproduction, as played out in our three key examples above and developed in the twenty-first century video art is able to transmit personalised and intimate narratives, expressing affective attributes of artists’ sensual and sentimental experience. Despite video art’s relative intangibility as an art medium it is, I argue, capable of affecting or ‘touching’ audiences with a special sense of empathy, particularly when presented in a contrived space designed to increase its sensual affects.

The three artist’s videos by Carr, Song and Price, discussed here, illustrate various forms of ‘object love’ that video art is capable of transmitting, despite its relative dematerialisation. However, it is, in part, the very intangibility of the medium that skews the ‘objects’ it represents, and thus skews any ‘love’ we might feel for them, in the direction of fetishism.

Museological objects with which we might develop a ‘loving’ relationship retain traces of a past that seems to be thereby ‘contained’ or ‘embodied’. However, in the article above the author has made a separation between any particular object or image of the past and the past itself. This suggests the possibility that we might ‘love’ the past itself, in itself, no matter what atrocities and abominations, and equally beautiful and redemptive events it may contain. We ‘love’ the past itself precisely for the metaphysical or transcendent inaccessibility that places it beyond the limits of human attainability.

Video art, as illustrated above, tends towards the archival. Like museology, it can be seen as an art of collecting, arranging, evaluating, juxtaposing and explicating. Hence, above, we arrived at the statement ‘screen becomes vitrine (or vice versa)’. Meanwhile, the ‘becoming’ referred to here is demonstrated by reference to the comprehensive process of digital imaging currently being undertaken by many contemporary museum collections as they prepare for a digital, virtual, globally accessible future which may significantly change museums and the part that ‘object love’ plays in our relationship with them. Thus our use of the three video artists returns us to Geoghegan and Hess’s original prompt.

While the development and culture of the vitrine, via the historically celebrated ‘wonder cabinet’ seems to symbolically found the modern culture of museology, it may be equally the case that the steady improvement of the glass lens, allied to increasingly modern and sophisticated cameras and projectors, mechanical and then digital reproduction, and the exponential proliferation of ‘screen culture’, brings us to our current ‘age of the archive’[13] (O’Kane, 2019). This is an age where every object is invited to enter into an afterlife initiated by its photographic reproduction and transformation into an image, a disembodied image that can be projected on or through one form of screen or another and made available to online viewers worldwide to scrutinise in ways that wouldn’t be possible or allowed in the realm of real and actual objects.

Ultimately, the method of using three video artists and their works as vehicles by which to expand and explore Geoghegan and Hess’s interest in museological ‘object love’ has led to a revised understanding of the way in which the object, subjected to a history of changing technologies of reproduction and representation, increasingly becomes both image and fetish in an age of increasing virtualisation. While the traditional museum provides a series of vitrined objects that may tantalise us with an embodied sense of connection to the past, the author’s use, in the article above, of video art as an alternative ‘lens’ or episteme through which to explore Geoghegan and Hess’s concept leads to an increased awareness of our age as an ‘age of the archive’ and of a pervasive ‘screen culture’ wherein fetishistic images may just supplant ‘object love’.

The ‘object’ that we ‘love’ thus shifts from being an indexical link connecting us to the otherwise inaccessible past, into being a fetishistic image that reminds us of the true inaccessibility of the past – a slightly ‘gloomier’ thought. However, the past itself, even if it can never be an ‘object’ in the sense of a material presence, is at least an ‘object’ in the sense that it retains the qualities of a trajectory of desire as an unobtainable ‘grail’ that continues to provoke within us a sense of adventure and thus makes of our research a form of quest or romance.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/191209/006