Catalogue of Lost Gloves

I taught for a semester at MIT in 2005, arriving just after the North American blizzard of  January that year, a three day storm that affected the entire northeast of the USA, but Boston in particular. There were mounds of snow everywhere and  a very cold winter followed. As the snow melted, I noticed that everywhere I went, on streets, sidewalks or in MIT corridors, there were  gloves, lost in their hundreds. Why was everyone losing their gloves in Boston? Why was glove-losing taking place at epidemic scale? I never found answers to these questions, but I began to photograph the lost gloves and they began to take on a life of their own. Providing warmth or protection, caressed by hands when worn, now lost, the gloves looked dejected and full of pathos. Some were twisted like broken corpses, frozen in untimely, agonising death. Some were like fossils, geological records of long-ago time. Some were squashed like furry little animals. Some were dismembered, disfigured, hurt. In being lost in a particular way, they seemed to take  on the characteristics of the hands they once held – extended, clenched, sprawled, pointing, beckoning – and the identity of missing persons – camouflaged, comic, coy, deflated, dignified, elegant, expectant, fey, flabby, flirtatious, fuzzy, injured, pathetic, sassy, sombre, sneaky, stoic, trampled, trashed – in mute defiance against having been lost.

The images have since been languishing on my Flickr site getting very little attention. I tried to  publish them in Cabinet magazine, but the editors rejected them. So I decided  to give them  an outing on geoarchitecture given that they now exemplify for me something Jane Bennet refers to as  ‘the vitality of matter.’ By this she means ‘the capacity of things … not only to impede or block the will and designs of humans but also to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own’ (Bennett 2010: viii). After my first projection of human characteristics onto the gloves, I have, in the years since, begun to understand them in a slightly different, less humanist, more  post-anthropocenic kind of way. Sure, people had been responsible for losing the gloves through distraction, hurry or carelessness (or had they?),  and likely been angry, upset or cold as a result. But, in being lost, the gloves’ own agency had been released. Firstly, they compelled me to photograph them. I behaved differently in the city because of them. I crossed roads, paused in awkward places, irritated my son by stopping to photograph them, other people looked at me strangely. They also acted on other urban elements, gathering debris and dirt, inviting other trash to be thrown nearby, redirecting storm water flow, clogging drains. Nothing terribly significant, but they were remaking the urban landscape in small, incremental ways. They are now, eight years later, probably decomposing and altering the material and chemical composition of the earth in a landfill somewhere. As images they are also still active, both as information and as material configurations with distinctive capacities and powers. They trigger my memory and remind me of moments and experiences I would otherwise have completely forgotten; they provide information about Boston’s 2005 weather, pavement materials, light as well as its socio–cultural geography and habits; I am still thinking and writing about them, organising them, posting them. They suggest the possibility that more attentive encounters between  ‘people-materialities and thing-materialities’ (Bennett 2010:x), however mundane, might stretch concepts of agency and action to that of vibrant matter.

What follows are the images of the gloves and record of the place and the time they were photographed. This makes up a ‘Catalogue of Lost Gloves’. The catalogue is  a format usually associated with commodities and consumption. I have used this intentionally as a rhetorical device to draw attention to the value of the gloves as non-commodities. In being lost, the gloves lost their exchange value and found their agency. The catalogue is really a catalogue of the agency of lost gloves.

lost gloves-01

  1. MIT Corridor 03.08.2005 20h39
  2. East Berkeley Street 03.09.2005 16h14
  3. East Berkeley Street 03.09.2005 17h07
  4. MIT Corridor 03.10.2005 13h19
  5. MIT Corridor 03.10.2005 17h32
  6. East Berkeley Street 03.11.2005 09h26
  7. Shawmut Ave 03.11.2005 9h28
  8. East Berkeley Street 03.11.2005 10h44
  9. East Berkeley Street 03.11.2005 10h47
  10. Washington Street 03.11.2005 13h11
  11. MIT Corridor 03.11.2005 19h47
  12. Harvard Square 03.13.2005 16h44
  13. Harvard Yard 03.13.2005 16h45
  14. Shawmut Ave 03.14.2005 12h33
  15. Shawmut Ave 03.14.2005 12h35
  16. Washington Street 03.15.2005 12h48
  17. Washington Street 03.15.2005 12h51
  18. Washington Street 03.13.2005 12h52
  19. Essex Street 03.15.2005 13h01
  20. Essex Street 03.15.2005 13h13
  21. Mulberry Street NYC 03.16.2005 13h37
  22. Randolph Street 03.18.2005 12h01
  23. Harrison Street 03.17.2005 12h53
  24. Washington Street 03.19.2005 10h59
  25. Tremont Street 03.19.2005 11h09b
  26. Tremont Street 03.19.2005 12h01
  27. Tremont Street 03.19.2005 12h01b
  28. Tremont Street 03.19.2005 12h06b
  29. Tremont Street 03.19.2005 12h06
  30. Tremont Street 03.19.2005 12h07
  31. Tremont Street 03.19.2005 12h18
  32. Tremont Street 03.18.2005 12h20
  33. Washington + East Berkeley Streets 03.19.2005 13h02
  34. Shawmut Ave 03.19.2005 13h06
  35. Shawmut Ave 03.19.2005 13h06b
  36. Mystic Ave 03.19.2005 14h06
  37. Washington Street 03.19.2005 15h50
  38. Peter’s Park 03.19.2005 16h51
  39. East Berkeley Street 03.22.2005 11h38
  40. Tremont Street 03.20.2005 12h37
  41. Tremont Street 03.20.2005 12h40
  42. West Newton Street 03.20.2005 12h40
  43. West Newton Street 03.20.2005 17h30
  44. West Newton Street 03.20.2005 17h42
  45. East Berkeley Street 03.20.2005 18h04
  46. East Berkeley Street 03.21.2005 13h50
  47. A Street 03.21.2005 13h54
  48. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h04
  49. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h05
  50. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h12
  51. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h13
  52. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h15
  53. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h16
  54. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h19
  55. West 2nd Street 03.21.2005 14h25
  56. West 1st Street 03.21.2005 14h30
  57. Summer St 03.21.2005 15h04
  58. East Berkeley Street 03.22.2005 11h40
  59. Broadway 03.22.2005 14h44
  60. Broadway 03.22.2005 14h46
  61. Broadway 03.22.2005 14h47
  62. Broadway 03.22.2005 14h48
  63. Broadway 03.22.2005 14h49
  64. Broadway 03.22.2005 14h52
  65. Peter’s Park 03.24.2005.15h34
  66. Shawmut Ave 03.24.2005 15h36
  67. West Newton Street 03.25.2005 14h06
  68. Tremont Street 03.26.2005 11h05
  69. Harrison Street 03.26.2005 15h42
  70. Harrison Street 03.26.2005 15h43
  71. Harrison Street 03.26.2005 15h44
  72. Belvedere Street 03.30.2005 08h10

Reference:

Bennet, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.

This project was undertaken before smart phones; the images were taken with a 5 megapixel Sony Cybershot camera.

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