Objects are all around us, and their ubiquity often lends them a quiet taken-for-grantedness. They tend to be mostly mute, often immobile, and only “come to life” when we encourage them to. But like the ravens amassing on the school playground in Hitchcock’s The Birds, we seem at present to have abruptly noticed them.

As a result, the study and understanding of objects is undergoing a gentle renaissance. In philosophy or design, anthropology or literature, history or fine art, cinema or material science, it feels as if the object has recently been brought down from the attic, dusted off, and placed proudly on the mantle – or even sat at the dinner table – to become a new kind of protagonist or antagonist of contemporary debate.

Contemporary reading of objects

Launched in 2013 by Noam Toran, currently a research fellow at Het Nieuwe Instituut, The Object as Actor symposium series promotes a pluralist, complicating and contemporary reading of objects, and of “thingness”, with the aim of creating cross-disciplinary “infections”. The symposia are designed to formulate new perspectives on our circumstances and conditions via the things which currently occupy or surround us, using performative lectures, unexpected formats, filmic fascinations, scholarly obsessions, and journeys through the detritus of everyday life.

The Object as Actor symposium is a project by artist Noam Toran, funded by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Previous editions took place at the Royal College of Art in London, focusing on literary and post-colonial readings of “thingness”, and the Art Center Pasadena in Los Angeles, streaked with Hollywood and sci-fi influences.


Speakers will include Yvonne Dröge Wendel (keynote), Pierre Bastien, Travis Jeppesen, Alexandra Midal, Marquard Smith, and Tamar Shafrir. The talks will be interspersed with screenings, performances, and technologically infected interactions. The final programme will be announced in early January 2017.

Noam Toran’s work involves the creation of intricate narratives developed as a means to reflect upon the interrelations of history, memory, cinema and literature. Research based, the works examine how fiction influences the collective consciousness, be it as history, myth or memory forming. Noam is a 2016 research fellow of Het Nieuwe Instituut.

Yvonne Dröge Wendel is concerned with the relationship between people and objects, and the quest for challenging new ways of relating to things. Dröge Wendel sets up experimental encounters and aims to capture what it is that objects actually do. Based in Amsterdam, she is head of the department of fine arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. She is also currently working on a PhD artistic research project at the University of Twente. She was awarded the 2016 Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Art.

Pierre Bastien is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and instrument designer. Since 1977 he has worked on Mecanium, a mechanical orchestra of automaton musicians that play traditional instruments. He has also collaborated with fashion designer Issey Miyake, singer Robert Wyatt, video artist Pierrick Sorin, Bauhaus architect and luthier Jean Weinfeld, and more.

Travis Jeppesen is an artist working in the medium of language. His books include novels (Victims, Wolf at the Door), poetry (Dicklung & Others, Poems I Wrote While Watching TV), and art criticism (Disorientations). He is known as the creator of object-oriented writing, a metaphysical form of art writing that attempts to channel the inner lives of objects. His first major object-oriented writing project, 16 Sculptures, was exhibited in the Whitney Biennial and Wilkinson Gallery, London.

Alexandra Midal is a curator, design theorist and historian, visual theory filmmaker, and serial killer enthusiast.. She is the author of books on Matali Crasset, Atelier van Lieshout, and Dan Graham, as well as the design theory books Antidesign, Design: Introduction à l’histoire dune discipline, and Design, l’Anthologie.

Marquard Smith is an academic, curator, commissioner, programmer, and founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Visual Culture. He is the author of several books, most recently The Erotic Doll: A Modern Fetish, and his most recent curated exhibition was “How to Construct a Time Machine” at MK Gallery.

Tamar Shafrir is a writer and designer. She works for Het Nieuwe Instituut as an R&D expert on Things and Materials. She teaches in Materialisation in Art & Design at the Sandberg Instituut and Social Design at Design Academy Eindhoven.

10:00 – 18:00

Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam


10 Euros including lunch

Fellowship programme
Philip Schütte, Ottokaan and Sascha Landshoff

This project is part of the programme track Partner projects and the folder Research.

The fellowship programme of Het Nieuwe Instituut hosts international practitioners and researchers in the fields of architecture, design, and digital culture