The aura is the appearance of a distance, however close the thing that calls it forth. In the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura, it takes possession of us.
- Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk (M 16a, 4)
On the eighteenth and nineteenth-century fairground, a place full of oddities and marvels, fascinating objects could be found. The carnival barker called the public to come and see the wonders of talking heads, fortune teller machines, stuffed monsters, exotic props or new technologies. These living objects were neither true nor false; they appear to be 'charged' with an obscure part that perplexes the spectator.
Indeed, by the obscure life that is theirs, by their 'auratic' power, some objects catch us, question us, fascinate us… They do not appear as inert human possessions but instead as actants, with specific features, energies, and potentials. We call them “objets chargés” (charged objects). The charged object imposes its singularity. It is charged because it exceeds its mere materialization or mere utilization. The wrenching power of the mirabilia, which extracts the viewer from the profane world, denotes a profoundly spectacular character. In its most paradigmatic form it appears as magical, sacred, supernatural or ritual, as it signals towards a radical elsewhere. It seems to transport its own context – archaeology, archives, ethnology, folklore, fiction – with it, at least for the connoisseur viewer. Traces of elsewhere, proof of the existence of latent forces, and condensers of the imaginary, charged objects summon a world. They are consequently a powerful tool for showmen to re-enchant the daily life of people who came to the fair, making them encounter the most curious things.
And, yet, the object lives through the efforts of its mediators who breathe life into it by establishing a link with the spectator: showmen, fairground people, wonderworkers, magicians, shamans, priests, demonstrators, curators, collectors, etc. Thus, we propose to study this exchange relying upon the dispositive of performer - object - spectator.
The project “Charged Objects” aims at enlightening the mode of existence of charged objects, the relationship they create with spectators and the mediations they require. These questions will mainly be considered in performative situations, through the study of the methods and effects of the direct presentation of objects, within different places such as the fair and its sideshows, the cabinet of curiosities and the live show.