The Hidden Histories of Objects
Provenance, Storytelling & Tagging Technologies


ISEA 2011 Istanbul: The 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art
14th September 2011
Istanbul, Turkey

2nd author: Chris Speed Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland

This paper explores notions of provenance, using storytelling to follow the lives of objects from their first inception to the narratives they collect along the way. As part of TOTeM1 a £1.39M research project based around the “Internet of Things”2, this research opens up new ways of preserving people’s stories through linking objects to the Internet via “tagging” technologies such as QR codes.

The process of appending immaterial data such as textual, video and audio stories, offers a significant additional dimension to the material attributes of an object. Hand produced creative artefacts already transcend a material value because of their individual characteristics and their reference to social and cultural frameworks. As the emerging technology of the Internet of Things supports the tagging of more and more objects, things will begin to accrue an immaterial data shadow that will begin to out weigh its material instantiation (Bruce Sterling, Shaping Things, 2005).

By examining creative artefacts, the authors explore how artists, designers and craftspeople express how such objects came into being. Using the public facing site, www.talesofthings.com, built for the TOTeM project, one can “tag” objects using QR codes, with stories in any digital media form. In this context, QR codes act as “digital makers’ marks” with the potential to hold far richer data than traditional ones. Whilst the data shadow of commercial things may be logistical: price, temperature, best for before dates etc., information provided by artists and designers has the potential to provide significantly more evocative stories that may change entirely the perception of an object. Through analysis of such stories, collected on talesofthings.com, the authors reveal how digital makers’ marks have the potential to carry myths and fictions as well as truths. In doing so, this paper articulates the implications of relocating memories and stories around creative artefacts to a digital platform in a way that has previously not been possible.