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New Survivalism: The Object Guardian (Futures)


Commissioned for the 2014 Istanbul Design Biennial, New Survivalism uses designed objects and storytelling to explore the survival strategies of a disparate set of protagonists, each with a very different take on what they “need”. The project consists of the survival kits of these protagonists, containing a mixture of found and designed objects, and accompanied by short narrative texts. Conventional survival kits address only the bottom of Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs (the physiological and safety needs of food, water, shelter etc.). Rather than replacing such kits, the alternatives proposed here represent the higher concerns of our protagonists.

This protagonist is a curator who is concerned about saving object histories in the event that museums are wiped out. They have created a ball of miniature iconic objects from the book by the British Museum’s director Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects, which they carry in an art-crate backpack.

The following short text accompanied the kit.

The Object Guardian
Ok that’s it—No more dawdling I need to finish this. Most of the time I am in the lab fighting the acidity of paper, the copper corrosion of miniatures, the chemical burning of leather, the shrinkage of overheated parchment. Pondering how these eight million artifacts came to be here. Trying to memorize just some of them seemed ridiculous but what if I am the only one left to remember? Sure, they’ve got their Integrated Emergency Management plan all tied up but who is the real guardian? Who is taking the memories of these artifacts to the people, when the people can no longer come to them?

Feynman said to understand something you have to make it. This may not be much but it’s as close as I can get. As I revolve it in my hands I imagine wandering through the Alexander room, up a floor, past the gaggle of kids with the mummies, into the depths of the museum to the Renaissance splendor of the Waddesdon bequest. Neil’s book, A history of the world in 100 Objects had been the inspiration but the reality of finding or making each replica to an appropriate scale was expensive and time consuming, and time was not on my side.