At the Museum of Everyday Life, simple objects of daily life from the toothbrush to the pencil are arrayed in several contexts: as exactly how they were created to function; as material for a new art form; or as a way to tell a story. So there’s a vacuum cleaner for the dust exhibit; there’s a bird crafted from safety pins; and there’s a mirror staged as the pond through which Narcissus was bewitched by his own image and reincarnated today as a flower and an allegorical description for self-obsession.
In this way, the museum elevates things we take for granted by repurposing them and forcing us to take notice. We come to realize that our things, processed through our imaginations, take on new meaning. It is as though the objects are talking to us directly with the museum curators merely amplifying their still, small voices like the people of tiny Whoville in the Dr. Seuss story “Horton Hears a Who” crying out, “We are here! We are here!”
Often we imbue our stuff with affection like an old T-shirt or mug; your object of sentimental attachment is the one you can’t bring yourself to part with it even after you declare spring cleaning time. But as a whole everyday things in our homes are usually invisible to us.
The quiet and humorous atmosphere of this museum belies the seriousness of its message. In my contemplation as a "philosopher in residence" here, I not only come to appreciate my toothbrush, I consider the people around me. More often than not in our daily lives, we are oblivious to the individuals who, through their work, enable us to live our lives. Think of the young man at the checkout counter, the elderly woman who volunteers at the library, the immigrant father who mows the lawn, the young woman who brings all tidings rain or shine as a letter carrier, and the unknown artists of all ages who painted the colorful mural in the viaduct you pass through every day on your way to work.
Let’s go further than this. People are not their function. Other people and the natural world do not revolve around us. They belong to themselves like unique pebbles that interface with us only through their radiance as outward moving ripples in a pond.
When we repurpose our minds to view people, animals and plants as beings rather than functionaries, we recast the world from object to subject. We come to realize in the spirit of wonder and gratitude that the well-being of all life is the universe in balance.