Placeholders: the Secret Work of Objects

A collaborative project with Seth Ellis

This series of projects uses audio, video projection, motion-tracking and radio-frequency identification technologies to create a web of biographical and historical narratives about material objects and place. Our aim is to experiment with ways to present an immediate, physical representation of a really existing place, not just spatially but in its cultural context as well. To do this we take culturally loaded objects, the products of industrial culture, as our narrative focal points, and reveal the histories in which they participate through interactive experience design.

Documentation of previous Placeholders projects:

For this exhibition, only the second to be held in The Carrack’s new location in east Durham, North Carolina, we invited neighborhood residents, or anyone with a connection to the area’s history, to bring objects that have some story to tell about how the area has changed over time. For Golden Belt, we used a portable 3D scanner to create a virtual museum display of visitors’ objects, so we didn’t keep any physical materials, just collected their digital images and the stories associated with them.

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The Ford Folly is an interactive installation that uses reproductions of significant objects (selected from the toolkit that accompanied every Model T) to reveal the often contradictory narratives pulled from the history of a specific place, Dearborn, Michigan. A built frame mimics the “experimental room” Ford maintained in each of his factories. A series of screens react to the presence of the tools printed from the original blueprints for the Model T and its toolkit, showing first-person accounts from Dearborn’s history, and videos of the sites in their current incarnations.

Zvezdochka is an interactive audio installation. A children’s radio, made in Russia in 1970, houses the entire history of Soviet radio broadcasting. As visitors move closer to the radio, they move in time, hearing signals still caught within the object; they hear broadcasts ranging from Lenin’s speeches in 1921, the year of the first broadcast audio from Moscow, to a Christian radio show broadcast in 1990, the year before perestroika.

The radio’s brand name, Zvezdochka, means “asterisk.”


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