Tangible Memories

Text by Matilda Kivelä. Photography by Bryan Saragosa.

The objects we live with and love are rarely just objects. Instead, they are chronicles of who we are and what we value: a map of our past, present, and sometimes our future.

Every year, on the 8th of February in the Kanto region and on the 8th of December around Kyoto and Kansai, Japanese women gather at shrines and temples, their bags filled with broken needles and pins. In a reserved atmosphere, the women carefully lay their tools in tofu and soft jelly cakes. The small altars are quickly swamped with stacks of needles, pins and offerings.

Hari-Kuyō, the Japanese Buddhist and Shinto Festival of Broken Needles, is an annual celebration of paying homage to the small things; a moment to thank the needles and pins for their service and showcase a strong attachment to extraordinarily ordinary objects.
 
Although Hari-Kuyō is a festival largely only celebrated in Japan, we all attach importance and feel respect and even affection towards objects no matter our geographical location or culture. Our selves and identities are, to a large extent, a reflection of the things—both humble objects and practical items—that we interact with and use. In The Meaning of Things, Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi argues that humans are not only Homo Sapiens or Homo Ludens, but also Homo Faber, the makers and users of objects. The homes we build around us, the cups we drink from and the garments we adorn our bodies with, are not just mere objects or things, but extensions of our inner selves. When we lose our belongings in traumatic circumstances like natural disasters or thefts, we feel a loss that can be likened to the pain felt over a death of a loved one, as suggested in Grief and Mourning in Cross-Cultural Perspective by Paul Rosenblatt, Patricia Walsh and Douglas Jackson. Losing a meaningful object and losing a loved one have, in essence, the same root: losing a crucial part of one’s identity. Often an object isn’t just an object; it is a signifier of who we are.

Iittala launched Vintage service because every bowl, plate, and glass we make is designed to be used and loved from generation to generation. Vintage service gives old Iittala and Arabia tableware a new life and offers an ever-evolving
in-store collection of vintage pieces. We also recycle broken or worn out glassware and ceramic tableware. Ceramics are ground into powder, which is reused in brick production, whereas glass waste is utilised as building insulation material.

In addition to being extensions of ourselves, our possessions form an ever-evolving still life of our past. The things we own tell our story: where we have come from and how we have journeyed here. They may also point to where we are going next. According to professor Russel Belk’s research, we express ourselves through our possessions and use them as tangible reminders of the experiences we’ve had, the happiness we’ve felt and the people we’ve shared our lives with. Belk argues that our favourite objects can even create a ‘sense of immortality after death’. The objects we hold dear act as little chronicles of our times, as well as bridges to meaningful moments, places or people. They simply resonate with us on a deeply emotional level. The feeling of attachment doesn’t only occur with objects that we purchase as new: if the objects we acquire are old, but not tied to our own personal past, like a serendipitously found vintage brooch or a coveted antique vase, they hold a sense of imaginary worlds and past within them. They stir our imaginations and transport us to lives and times we have not lived through. They are imbued with the intrigue of
the unknown.
 
When The New York Times published psychologist Arthur Aron’s 36 Questions to Fall in Love With Anyone, a set of questions designed to explore whether two people can dive into intimacy in an accelerated way, the article quickly went viral. One of the queries featured in Aron’s questionnaire was an age-old classic: if you had to save any one item from your burning house, what would it be? The details of the material still life that we would save from our burning homes often reveal what we value the most. Were one to answer the question honestly and truthfully, it would probably be a battle between practical items, expensive objects and sentimental things; anything from laptops to vintage vinyl record collections and love notes scribbled on the back of grocery store receipts. The pertinence of the tricky question reveals that objects are never mere objects. Instead, they are mirrors of who we are and how we have lived; tiny vignettes of what we are when everything is stripped away.