​How to preserve the world of things?

Year 2013/2014 alumnus Dima Dewinn and MARCH School of architecture graduate Maxim Zuev are working on a joint project titled Thngs. According to its creators this new system will allow us to record and preserve every object in the world. Strelka Magazine met up with ex-Strelkavite Dewinn and found out how he set out to “save the physical memory of humankind” and why soon everyone will be using this archive of things.

— Does this project have anything to do with your education at “Strelka”?

— I think that whatever you do after “Strelka” ends up being directly related to it. Education changes the way you look at things and by things I mean — everyday objects, work-related objects, personal objects.In the last few years Maxim and I have been studying visual environment: he focused on architecture and I chose design, especially in its applied form. Maxim did his MA at Moscow architecture school MARCH where they put a lot of emphasis on the relationship between philosophy and architecture, and the world of objects in general. One of the main conclusions that he came to while studying there was that every entity records the work of our consciousness — it’s a type of memory. Like a global hard drive with information about everything stored on it. But this information is not permanent, it’s constantly changing. Objects tend to disappear, but we do nothing to record and preserve them. At first we wanted to dedicate our project to architecture, but soon realised that Google Maps was already offering a perfect platform for that. That’s when we decided to work with objects as there was no service dedicated to the preservation of things at the time.

— What informed your decision to create this service?

— Things are the physical memory of humankind, but they get destroyed with time and need to be preserved. A long time ago humans started making objects such as primitive tools, and since then a myriad of things has been created. We have reliable information only about the things that were made in the last one-two hundred years. Most of them are in museums, galleries, academic institutions, private collections — inaccessible to the wider audiences.

Every object tells a story: what it’s made of, by whom, what technology was used. We record all these attributes in digital format: text, images, videos and other files help to communicate a more thorough understanding of the object. Every object has its own page and its own place among Thngs. It can be easily found and studied in different contexts. In just a few clicks one can look through all types of Soviet money, see every Renaissance painting or mobile phone made of metal.

— How do you decide what counts as a ‘thing’ and what doesn’t?

— A thing is a self-restricted object of the material world created by a human. A space rocket, a cargo plane, a mobile phone, a table lamp, a pair of Nike sneakers, money — all of these are things. A bottle of Coke is a thing as well although it can also be regarded as a system of elements: a label, a bottle and a cap.

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— Why do we need this service?

— People like to create and collect things. According to statistics, 38% of Russians are collecting something and the closer they get to retirement age the more passionate about collecting they become. It can be anything: from out of circulation money to foreign cigarette packs. There are people who take pictures of their artifacts and upload images and information on special forums where they engage in dialogue with fellow collectors. They became our first users.

After that article on Look At Me we started receiving letters from various enthusiasts who were either collecting or making things. Of course, it’s preferable that information about objects is provided by the original makers. I have contacted a few industrial makers and they got interested in the project because it will allow them to demonstrate not just the results of their work but also the process, the various prototypes, that are often very different compared to the ones that go into serial production.

— Anyone can upload anything? Can I upload “Mona Lisa” for example?

— Yes, you can. Moreover, your name will also appear on the page. That is of course if a curator from Louvre doesn’t upload it before you. In that case you will be notified that this page already exists and that you can add more information.

— How do you filter what is uploaded?

— Adding objects to Thngs — is one of the most interesting and difficult tasks that we are facing. Information is uploaded according to the principle “properties: meaning”, then media and files are attached to it. We even developed a special mechanism: if you enter a certain typology it automatically provides you with all the necessary properties that are characteristic of this typology — almost like artificial intelligence that understands what you are trying to say about a certain object.

Most of those who have accumulated a considerable collection have already described their objects and produced high-quality images. But until now they didn’t not have an instrument that could allow them to contextualise their collections.

— So you are taking care of the physical, material world of humankind?

— Yes, sometimes it scares me too. But knowing that this is not just preservation but also a future possibility to re-create technologies of the past is really inspiring. We were invited to take part in the Collision conference in Las Vegas along with some of the brightest minds of Silicon Valley who were there to tell the stories of their success. And we were also among the winners in the category dedicated to the most ambitious start-ups.

You can read about Dima Dewinn’s research at “Strelka” here.

Images provided by Thngs.

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