Joshua Sofaer

Object Retrieval

UCL, London, 15-21 October 2009

1 object
explored for 7 days
24 hours a day
by a rolling team of researchers from the arts and sciences

Object Retrieval was a mass participation art project that took place from 15-21 October 2009 on a converted Routemaster bus in the main UCL (University College London) Quad on Gower Street, London. A single object from the UCL Pathology Collection was exhibited on the bus and explored by thousands of people from their own personal or professional perspective for 7 days, 24 hours a day. The response was extraordinary. Contributions ranged from the hyper-scientific to childhood memories via the Gospels, Jack Kerouac, Psychoanalysis and pretty much everything in between.

Object Retrieval had a simple premise: to uncover as much information as possible about one object from UCL’s Museums & Collections in the space of 7 days.

By inviting as many experts from as many subjects as we could muster as well as members of the general public to explore the object, we hoped to amass a huge, potentially limitless biography of the object. Contributions included scientific analyses of the object, personal anecdotes, drawings, anthropological accounts and many more types of information.

The selected object was a toy car that was central to a case of ‘lead poisoning in a child’ from 1963. The object was kept as a teaching aid by Great Ormond Street Hospital and is now part of the UCL Pathology Collection based at the Royal Free Hospital. In a sense it is not important what the object was, as we are confident that any object put under close scrutiny for a week would accrue a large and fascinating biography.

Object Retrieval sets out to explore 3 main ideas:

  • the possibilities of interdisciplinary research in a 21st century university and beyond
  • the challenges faced by museums to interpret objects in a constantly shifting society
  • art as a means to allow people to stand outside of their own personal and professional bounds and take a fresh look at something they thought they already knew about

A project by Joshua Sofaer, curated by Simon Gould
In association with UCL Museum & Collections

Publication designed by David Caines
Word map compiled and edited by Rhiannon Armstrong

Research Provocateurs and Public Communicators: Rhiannon Armstrong, Richard Allen, Katy Beinart, Camilla Brueton, Simon Bowes, Catherine Hoffmann, Ruth Holdsworth

Website developed by Athanasios Velios
Chemistry experiments by Andrea Sella and Mark Miodownik
Karaoke by Hot Breath Karaoke
Object and conversation provided by Paul Bates, UCL Pathology Collections Curator
Bus provided by Anthony Roberts and Colchester Arts Centre
Exhibition installation by Susie Chan
Electrics by Syd Funnell
Plinth made by Andrew Miller
Graphic design by Lee Thomas
Video Ident by Lu Elliott
Logo design by Goh Ideta
IT support by Andy Sykes and Sam Washington

Advisory Committee: Jack Ashby, Jayne Dunn, Mark Lythgoe

With thanks to: Sally MacDonald, Natasha McEnroe, David Price, Nick Tyler, Rosalind Tunnicliffe, Michael Worton, UCL Museums & Collections, Wellcome Trust