Burning House | Physical permanence vs. temporality and our belongings


Blake just got a new position in the hotel where he works; He is now a manager, and with a raised paycheck, and better opportunities, he sees himself in Austin for a while. My days in the city, unlike his, are counted; I will probably go back to my country in June.


The relationship between us and our artefacts are influenced by multiple social, psychological, cultural, semantical and political conditions. But they are also specifically tied with spatial considerations. Our sense of permanence or temporality in a place, determines the relationship we have with objects.


When choosing his “burning house” objects, Blake did not hesitate to pick up those that were passed on to him from his grandparents, people who have taught him the graceful art of hosting and entertaining: a nice glass decanter, a metal jug and teapot, and a watch that hangs inside a glass bell. These pieces, as Miller1 would describe, possess not only a “cultural appropriation” but also a personal relationship. The desire of continuing the tradition of being a good host is rooted in the personal experiences of Blake, and his objects are the materialization of not only history, but also of means to achieve this idealistic goal. For him, the artefacts hold value in their transcendence.


My selection is, on the other hand, maybe a more practical approach; understanding not only the ephemerality of the artefacts, but also the ephemerality of my presence in this place. Furthermore, they depict what Miller calls temporal identity: “a temporal equivalence in which objects stand for the particular states of persons at that time”. Objects that can be portable, that change through time with me, they evolve, such as the content in my laptop, or my growing collection of data in an external drive, or my phone; but also objects that are part of my identity in this current time, like the guitar that does not belong to me, but that I play constantly, or the bike that I ride every day in this city, but that I hardly visualize myself riding back home due to the dangerous traffic.


If our both houses were burning, we would understand our identities in direct connection to our belongings, but also with our place and space.


  1. Miller, D. “Artefacts and the meaning of things” in T. Ingold (ed.) Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology: 396-419.” (1994)


For more reference visit: The Burning House