The project Web site “objet d’ailleurs” is an ongoing collection of stories from immigrants to Montréal or other cities in the world about objects that remind them of their home country.

Objects evoke feelings, places, and memories, as well as serve as a material legacy of cultures. When a person leaves one country for another, he or she is often forced to take just a few things. Thus the objects an immigrant brings with them serve as rare, tangible links to their country of origin. As a young German woman who has lived in countries including Brazil, Italy, The Netherlands, and Portugal, and who immigrated to Montréal 6 years ago, the project's author (Brigitte Schuster) has become part of a large percentage of Montréalers who live in between their homeland and an adopted nation. For this project, she is interested in learning about how recent immigrants feel about their cultural identity and relationship to place. She proposes to explore this subject through an interactive Web site based on interviews with recent immigrants about objects that are most important to them.

The artist finds participants both through her personal network of immigrants as well as through local immigrant support organizations. One way to gather the information is to meet with individuals, inviting them to tell her about one personal possession they have from their home country and what it means to them. With their permission, she would record these interviews as well as take a "portrait" of each person's chosen object, gleaning an approximately 100 word story about the object from the interview. Another way would be to invite individuals by email to write about one personal possession from their home country and what it means to them and asking them to take a photograph of their object in question. Whereas the first project entries are controlled by the author, later on, the Web site will be opened to an unlimited public. The author's function is to oversee activity and ensure that further content is developed according to the project's goals. Each user is invited to create an optional profile listing information such as country of origin or country of residence. Stories can be entered in English or in the user's language of origin.

The Web site contains an archive of the first series of interviews and objects, that allows the visitors to browse, peruse, cross-reference, and link to a large selection of stories and images. It will also automatically organize this information into constellations of keywords, often called tags, and present graphical abstractions of the archive. As various users contribute keywords this information will be mapped visually, revealing both the frequency and relationships between common themes such as migration, identity, place, history, and culture.

The objet d'ailleurs project is both poetic as well as sociological in tone. The goal will be to continue the exploration of user-generated content and information visualization to poetically map individuals' thoughts and feelings on the subject of home(land) and adopted nation. The Web site is not only a medium to showcase this content, but can symbolically be seen to connect both, home(land) and adopted nation.

“objet d’ailleurs” is a multidisciplinary art project, which is showcased in form of a Web site, a site-specific installation and a participatory event. Made in 2010, in Montreal, QC, CA. Brigitte Schuster in collaboration with Sarven Capadisli.

Projects by other artists involving objects

  • Resurrection of the Past project by Michelle X, USA
  • Offerings-offrandes project by France Trépanier, Canada
  • Objects of war project by Lamia Joreige, Lebanon. About memory and trauma in war Lebanon. Each interviewee was asked to discuss an object. These include: minidisc, passport, watch, photograph, teddy bear. These testemonies while helping to create a collective memory, also show the impossibility of telling a single history of this war. Compiling a series of interviews about life during the Lebanese wars, artist Lamia Joreige examines through memory and trauma, which can be embodied in personal objects.
  • http://kioskkiosk.com/, USA