The Encyclopedia of Things is an ongoing community-based art project by Elisabeth Smolarz that uses photography and storytelling to chronicle the lives of diverse individuals. Since 2014, Smolarz has collaborated with people in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia to make intimate, object-based portraits. Each participant selects meaningful personal items that are arranged for the camera in temporary shrine-like installations. After listening to the stories behind these treasures, Smolarz creates still-life portraits that embody the identities and personal narratives of their owners.
The objects in the printed photographs are rendered at their actual sizes, inviting viewers to relate to them as real things and suggesting the presence of unseen individuals. Although these commonplace objects have special significance in the individual memories they represent, their universality reminds us of our shared human experience.
This exhibition showcases residents of Guttenberg, NJ, a small, but densely populated town in Hudson County. During an artist residency at Guttenberg Arts in 2017-18, Smolarz visited sixty-five residents, interviewed them, and photographed their treasured possessions. The twelve portraits on display represent a cross-section of Guttenberg and contribute to the artist’s collective portrait of a diverse community. To hear some of the participants discuss their significant objects, follow the links underneath each corresponding image.
This exhibition was organized by Guttenberg Arts and is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.