Conscious Objects: An Essay by Frances Beaver for Rebecca Tennenbaum’s Exhibition Every Thing Has a Function

Conscious Objects

By Frances Beaver





If you don’t own a Fitbit, would you consider buying one if instead of tattling to your health insurance company how many sit ups you don’t do, you could program it to play back an 8-bit version of any song when it sensed through your vitals that you were dying? Just to soothe the experience.*

I am as skeptical of utopias as I hope you are, but what if we really did get the world we were promised and ONLY that world? Without all the consumer surveillance?

What if the dino-appliances from the Flintstones universe made quippy asides not to the camera, but to you? And if they were constructive?

Every Thing Has a Function blurs the lines of magic and technology to imagine machines that are here to help, just help.

A mouth guard that measures nightly grind patterns and uses the data to make you more honest with yourself in your waking life, a machine that weighs the outcomes of life decisions using simple visual symmetry, an air filter that detects and freshens unresolved social interactions.

A piece of bathroom decor that might be able to give you advice now from yourself ten years in the future by running a program that speculates what type of person that might be from data sets collected during your most vulnerable moments that bookend the day. The time we spend pooping naked, showering, AND preparing for your ensuing day, calming the morning’s anxieties. It will never try and sell you soap, fibrous cereals, or funny shower curtains. It’s only there to help.

In the meta-data of Tennenbaum’s sculptures is critique of common domestic arrangements; in this case, architectural. Conscious objects or smart devices, whatever, are most efficient when WE are at our most predictable and when we live lives similar to our neighbors. The piece of bathroom decor gathers data on your hygiene protocols and biological transferences AS WELL AS how you plan your day and resolve the morning’s anxieties. One object oversees multiple types of behavior. However, while pooping and most hygiene protocols require running water and waste removal (the infrastructures that outfit “bathroom”) there is nothing inherently “bathroom” about planning your day or soothing your morning anxieties except that one might commonly do both at the same time, in the morning. This conscious object may be ineffective in a house without plumbing but that’s not what I’m fixating on. I’m fixating on the fact that this object conjures a user profile fit enough to predict the evolution of its personality over ten years by combining personality traits that center around indoor plumbing.

Tennenbaum calls attention to the connections these devices make between virtually dissimilar human behaviors. She also makes connections herself using her objects, between inner tumult and external action; trying to make sense of the same world we all inhabit.


*I would pick Closer be to God, the song the musicians play in Titanic when the boat is going down, the song CNN has cued up in the event of an apocalypse.





Born in Delco, Frances Beaver is a video artist, storyteller, and universe constructor working in Philadelphia. She received her BFA from Tyler, her MFA from Upenn. She was a founding member of New Boone Artist Collective and Gallery and is currently an adjunct professor at Tyler School of Art. Her work has been shown at ICA, Fringearts, Practice Gallery, Little Berlin, PostScript, IceBox, & Grice Bench. Her work can be seen at





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