The Innocence of Objects
Orhan Pamuk (2008)
(Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap)
Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish writer. He has won several literary prizes, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. His book, the Innocence of Objects is a ‘Catalogue’ of a museum he created in Istanbul. He writes how the museum came about when we wanted to collect and exhibit the ‘real’ objects of a fictional story in a museum. His thinking was that the protagonists would seem more real and more quintessentially of Istanbul whilst realising that this idea came through, “The painter inside me …… attempting to resurface from the depths of my soul onto the table, to nestle onto the page” (2008:15).
Some of my original notes are attached: The Innocence of Objects
He started collecting from the mid-1990s and began writing the novel in 2002. The novel was going to be about love and the family and built around the Keskin family, their son Kemal and the belongings of a beautiful shop-girl called Füsun and he began it with a view to creating an annotated catalogue to bring together writing and Art. However, he soon realised that writing in such a way would not allow an adequate exploration/expression of the full import of the romance and the entire culture of the period and wanted to write a classic novel instead.
Pamuk describes how he sought out a location for the museum, originally thinking of buying a shop to exhibit the objects but then, in 1992, purchasing a rundown house in an old area of Istanbul; exploring the area and feeling part of the community. On the day the museum was completed “I understood that it has its own spirit existing independently of the novel” (2008: 18) Each tells its own story and can be visited independently but the two have an affinity and the museum objects are described in the novel.
The book is full of his own photographs; photographs of objects and photographs acquired for the museum and the seventy-four ‘Chapters’ take us on a visual tour of his exhibition and his thoughts on the culture and traditions of Istanbul, the role of a museum, life and everyday objects. It might seem an elaborate installation – such as by Joan Fontcuberta – but the Museum really does exist – see here . In 2015 Somerset House, London displayed thirteen vitrines from Pamuk’s Museum, showed a film by Grant Gee and original material about the making of the museum and facsimile manuscripts of the novel. I did go along to have a look and it was very interesting to see all the objects in their vitrines. Here is a trailer for the film that premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2015
The Museum of Innocence
Orhan Pamuk (2009)
(Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely)
The novel tells the story of a doomed romance in Istanbul in the 1970s at a time when social mores were changing. It unfolds over 728 pages and has a lengthy index of characters to guide the reader through the many people who appear. Kemal the son of a wealthy family is engaged to the aristocratic Sibel but falls in love with a distant relative, a beautiful 18 year old girl called Füsun, who works in a shop. The affair doesn’t last long after Füsun discovers Kemal is engaged and by the time he breaks off the engagement it is too late. Kemal becomes an obsessive collector of mundane objects associated with Füsun
I will write no more as I wouldn’t wish to spoil the story for anyone who might wish to read the book, although there are some reviews here
I wanted to record these books because of the multi-layered process that Orhan Pamuk followed in their creation and the extent of research and collection he used both to make a narrative become ‘real’ and also to weave his own thoughts, memories and views on life around the artefacts. I would love to go and visit this Museum although now is probably not a good time given the current situation in Turkey. I think his work here is an excellent example of the way in which artists can use these means to present their work not only on paper but in an actual place. Of course, I was reminded of Joan Fontcuberta’s created archive and collection that I wrote about here and I have also been thinking of how I can use these ideas, in a more simplified form, in my own work. An Exhibition is obviously the most likely setting but I have in mind to create something in miniature.
Pamuk, O (2008) The Innocence of Objects, NY Abrams
Pamuk, O (2009) the Museum of Innocence, London, Faber & Faber