this is not a review — aka: ‘stuff’ as story arc, plot AND character development

Leanne Shapton’s Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, including Books, Street Fashion, and Jeweleryis such fun I’m not sure I can do it even a smidge of justice here.

Presented as an exquisite auction catalogue, the book is 129 pages of photographs and ‘Lot’ descriptions of items belonging to the fictious Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris from the time they meet until their breakup some years later. Sheila Heti ‘plays’ Lenore to Paul Sahre’s Harold and the photographs of them are so real (goofing in photo booths, cooking, hanging out with friends) disbelief is well and truly suspended; they are Lenore and Harold. Sheila who?

The catalogue, in essence, catalogues the couple’s meeting and courtship through postcards sent, unique gifts, books with inscriptions, souvenirs and so on, through their relationship and ultimate breakup.

Despite there being no ‘story’—not one bit of narrative or dialogue—there is a definite rhythm and tension to the ‘stuff’ as it’s presented and we come to know these people intimately through their shoes, musical tastes, playbills, party invitations, dishes, clothing, sunglasses, handmade cards, tea towels, recipes, various doo dads and quirks.

LOT 1174 / A half a wishbone / The winning side of a turkey wishbone. Kept by Morris in his bedside table. Length 3 1/2 in. / $5-10

LOT 1197 / A small headlamp / A halogen headlamp, affixed with an elasticized cloth band. $12–15 / Used by Doolan for reading in bed.

A black and white photograph of the item (and often Doolan and/or Morris) accompanies each Lot description.

Towards the end of the catalogue the items slowly reveal a change in the relationship. A broken coffee mug, notes of apology, a white noise machine, restaurant receipt showing the main courses cancelled. Among the last items are pressed flowers and four-leaf clovers kept by each, separately.

Very cleverly done.

Apparently Shapton, a former Torontonian now living in NYC where, at the time of the book’s publication (2009) she was the art director of the New York Times op-ed page, got the idea after attending an auction of Truman Capote’s belongings (at which she purchased his overcoat).

I can only imagine the planning and execution of the book must have been both daunting and a complete blast.

Note: After writing the above, I then googled around for links and, to my horror, stumbled upon this. Good god. The whole magical point of the book is that there is NO action; the ‘stuff’ is what brings the people to life. I somehow can’t see Brad Pitt taking a backseat to a salt shaker.

And that may very well be unfortunate.


Important Artifacts is available for purchase online at Blue Heron Books.

Indie love.  ♥


From the Re-Run Series: originally posted in June, 2010.