Walter Benjamin, in his ‘Arcades Project’ writes:
“The collector dreams his way not only into a distant or bygone world, but also into a better one-one in which, to be sure, human beings are no better provided with what they need than in the everyday world, but in which things are freed from the drudgery of being useful.”
and in his introduction (Expose 1939)…
“The subject of this book is an illusion expressed by Schopenhauer in the following formula: to seize the essence of history, it suffices to compare Herodotus and the morning newspaper. What is expressed here is a feeling of vertigo characteristic of the nineteenth century’s conception of history. It corresponds to a viewpoint according to which the course of the world is an endless series of facts congealed in the form of things.”
When I was thinking about how I perceive history, or at least, how I try to perceive history, I began to consider that it was as much about removing the ‘stain’ of history from whatever it was I was perceiving, i.e. an event, date etc., and seeing that event or date as it was, in all its minutiae, at the moment of its happening. It was as much about the mundane (the morning newspaper) as it was the heroic (Herodotus). And that is why I’m so drawn to objects, the simple things – broken bits of pots and so on – one finds in a museum, those things which have been collected and ‘relieved of the drudgery of being useful’ as Benjamin puts it. However, in order to find one’s way back in time, when looking at such objects, one needs to reimpose that drudgery, to see them as they were, when they were in fact useful, when they were being used, and who it was who was using them.