For a long time, Kiribati was one of the world's forgotten nations. It is adrift and alone in the ocean; its residents rarely left, and visitors rarely arrived.
But it has suddenly come to an international prominence. Kiribati is among the first nations to run the climate change gauntlet, serving as a bellwether for the rising seas, the droughts, the storms, and all the other cruelties that follow.
The irony is that Kiribati's greenhouse gas emissions are the third lowest in the world. New Zealanders, per capita, emit 25 times more, Americans 45 times more.
Last week, Sotheby’s auctioned off 140 little black dresses. The event, “Les Petites Robes Noires, 1921–2010,” featured vintage dresses collected by the fashion antiquarian Didier Ludot. A dazzling mix of silk faille, velvet, jersey, and tulle—all in black—cut simple silhouettes. The collection included iconic pieces from Chanel, Givenchy, and Hermès. The more expensive lots fetched over 20,000 euros.
To introduce the collection, Ludot wrote, “Today I pay tribute to the astonishing story of the little black dress and to the designers who wrote its story, a dizzying tale ... from the Roaring Twenties to the new millennium.” But the most astonishing part of the little black dress’s story might be its prologue, the backstory left out of the auction catalogue, the glossy coffee-table books, and the fashion magazines. The most important acolytes of the little black dress were not designers nor aristocrats, but masses of working-class women.
Visual artists see beauty in junk. In almost every found object, whether a rusty nail or discarded household item, there is potential to make art. We are experts at transforming the banality of stuff into magnificent things. The object is the visual artist’s holy grail, but like body language, writers often leave objects out. If objects appear at all, they are frequently generic, or relegated to the background as mere placeholders that indicate a setting.
But our objects contain our stories. The chair we sit in, the purse or wallet we carry, the toothbrush we use, the food we eat, the glasses we wear–these items have hidden meaning. Cleaning people can know almost everything there is to know about us because the objects that surround us put our secrets in plain view. And how we use these objects can disclose character. The bent tip on a kitchen knife tells us something about the impatient soul who couldn’t wait to open a package.