There was a time when it was believed that the world of subjects and the world of objects constituted two antagonistic realities. People, it was said, live; things simply exist. If the subject was defined by it’s ability to act, think and feel, the object was described as a neutral and passive entity, practically timeless, indifferent to the vicissitudes of history and with which it could only establish a relationship of a merely instrumental nature.
Nowadays, we know that this distinction, which I have voluntarily exaggerated here, is little more than a chimera, since between the world of subjects and the world of objects there is no relationship of rupture but, on the contrary, a relationship of close continuity. This continuity manifests itself in different ways. For example, it is evident that our personal identity -what constitutes us precisely as subjects- is partly the result of the encounters, more or less random, that we have been spinning along our existence with a multitude of objects of different nature which have shaped our way of understanding and feeling the world around us. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that objects make us and conform us to the same extent as subjects, or even greater, in which we produce and use them.
It is true that there are objects that belong to us, in the sense that they are our property. Hence in some cases we inscribe our name on them. The nominal object is presented as a sort of doppelganger of the person. It is important to emphasize that the name that is inscribed on the object is not addressed to oneself but to the others: its function is, therefore, explicitly public. Its objective is to establish the social value of the object through its association, and partial identification, with a subject or with a social group. Now, what does "owning an object" mean? To own is much more than to hold the right to use, because the relationship that we maintain with things goes beyond the limits of the merely instrumental. We have objects that link us to absent people or moments that have passed forever. This is to a great extent the power of photography. In so far as these objects are linked to people we love or to relevant moments in our life, they possess a strange subjectivity, an almost magical, transcendent value because they allow us to be in a paradoxical contact with something or someone who is no longer there. These objects, a sort of domestic icons, are not simply things, they are rather object-subjects, objects that act as if they were people. We are challenged, touched and reminded by them. They are objects with which we maintain a bond of intimacy and affection. Their value is not derived from their functionality -it does not matter what they are for- but from their social and affective dimension.
All this shows that, just as objects belong to us, so do we "belong" to the world of objects. Specifically to certain objects whose significance in our life has been of special relevance. Through contact with these objects our identity, our way of being and understanding the world, as well as the patterns through which we relate to others shape up.
We live surrounded by objects and we relate through them. So, it is to a great extent through the mediation of objects that the bonds of belonging are built which bind us from the family nucleus to broader social groups. The relationship with objects always implies a collective dimension. The objects of our ancestors are, at the same time, strange and close objects, our own and those of others. The same thing happens with objects such as the toys of our children, with which we end up maintaining a relationship of empathy as a result of the use and continued meaning that our descendants have given them. Their objects are also ours, and vice versa. Objects at the same time individualize us and make us social beings. Ultimately, our life is inseparable from the things that make it possible. But that is not all, there is nothing metaphorical in saying that things also live, because they also play an active role in social life, constantly changing their meaning in terms of the relationships they build up throughout their existence. Therefore, subjects and objects do not live in two separate worlds, but in a single fact of infinite stories where objects, subjects and objects-subjects are continuously intertwined.
Barbara Alegre’s work is a dazzling example of the intimate relationship we have with objects as well as their intrinsic "genealogical" nature. In her pieces, the secret -almost clandestine- biography that objects hide, is revealed. Her work presents us with the endless bonds we have woven with things throughout our lives, and without which we would neither be what we are, nor things would be what they are.
Barcelona, December 2016