Issue 1: Research Festival

The connection between people and objects

For some people, objects are always given some special meaning. These objects can be people’s friends, can be a container that hold people’s memories, or can be a symbol that represent someone.

I am a big fan of soft toys, and my house is filled with dolls of all shapes and sizes. I always feel insecure; being surrounded by stuffed toys increases my sense of security. Whether from the soft touch or the cute appearance, it can calm me down. When I was young, I think every toys have a soul. I can speak to them, and they can understand what I say. When I was happy, I share my excitement with them; when I was sad, they can help me to express my sadness. Many feelings in the heart are difficult to explain in words, and when those emotions cannot be described in languages, the doll becomes a perfect friend to chat with.

Raining, watercolor on paper, 2022, 12” x 10”

In the book “Evocative Object, Things We Think With” by Sherry Turkle, the writer trend to tell her personal stories by introducing different objects that appeared in her life. There is a chapter called “Murray: The Stuffed Bunny”  Turkle mentioned her personal story with her little sister Shayna and the stuffed bunny named Murray. I can feel a really close connection with Turkle’s little sister. I often named my toys and tried to communicate with them. 

Turkle’s little sister Shayna seen Murray as her same age friend. They grew up and play together throughout Shayna’s childhood. Turkle traveled with Murray into Shayna’s imagination. Murray has the ability to comfort, entertain, and amaze her sister delights. This stuffed bunny can seen as a manifestation of people’s tendency to embody character inside fluff and fabric.

“When Shayna is upset, I watch as Murray dries her tears, and I am sue what taken aback to discover the I, too, am comforted by his presence”

“Evocative Object, Things We Think With” by Sherry Turkle

Through my interviews with people, most of my interviewees owned one or many soft toys in their childhood. When people grow up and become more nostalgic, they always collect things that are similar to the toys they played with before. Toys play an important role in people’s growth. The meaning of many toys is given by people themselves. When life is stressful, toys can relieve stress, and when people are lonely, toys can also accompanied with them. Toys can be people’s spiritual friends. Whether it is an adult or a child, there will always be friends in their own imagination. Like Turkle’s sister Murray, most people will have a similar experience with her. So in my work, I draw various toy friends of the interviewee through their descriptions. 

Most of my paintings want to express a harmonious atmosphere of human and stuffed animals together, people are always relaxed around them. It’s like people have created a fantasy world for themselves, with only their spiritual friends lived in. They come into the world when they are alone and enjoy the warmth and ease that their friends bring to them. Of course, it’s not just toys that can give people a sense of security. Toys make up only a small part of those meaningful objects.

Of course, it’s not just toys that can give people a sense of security. Toys make up only a small part of those meaningful objects.

Motherless, Fay Ballard, graphite and crayon on paper, 57.5 x 53cm, 2017

Fay Ballard has created four memory boxes depicting objects she has drawn from life or memory — She drew her mother’s and father’s possessions, in order to have a spiritual connect between her parents. The collection was inspired by Ballard cleaning out his childhood home after his father died in 2009. Every item in the home carries her memories and thoughts of previous events.

Fay Ballard carefully examines and analyzes items found in her father’s home after his death in April 2009. Ballard wanted to explore who she is and where she came from through her creation of memory boxes. Ballard has sparked many emotions because of the passing of his parents, and for many of us, this is a very sad time because life with our parents has turned into a past Ballard’s work is a reflection on memory and loss.

Ballard recreated the items she found from drawings she placed in the cupboard and made a list of them. Her paintings are exquisitely detailed and at the same time very sensitive and powerful, making what seems inconsequential to Ballard and the viewer become very important and full of metaphors.

Pinky Bear, oil on panel, 6” x 6”, 2022

In “The comfort of things” by Daniel Miller (Miller, 2009, p.2),The author raises a question, does the object speak? People have answered this question by decorating their homes. The author considers each item in the room to be a form in which people choose to express themselves. They put decorations in the living room and carpets in the living room. On the day of moving into a new home, people carefully select furniture. Some things may be gifts from others or they may be preserved from the past, people decide to live with them, and they keep them organized or cluttered; they make the room minimal or full of objects. These things are accumulated gradually and can also represent the profile of the person or the family. If one learns to observe and listen to these objects, one can learn a lot of hidden information from them.  

I’m obviously not a minimalist, so I try to keep everything as close to my eyes as possible. I rarely use cabinets. I also like the feeling of being surrounded by many objects. Because I live alone, loneliness is always inevitable. For example, when I stay in a hotel. Although the hotel was convenient and fast, I knew I was not at home, so I lost sleep. Although my bed was not as comfortable as a hotel, and there was no staff to clean the room every day, I still felt my tiny room is the best place to relax. It’s a strange psychological effect because of the lack of belonging.

Floating, watercolor on panel, 12” x 10”, 2022

A sense of belonging is one of the most important needs of people after ensuring basic food, saturation and safety. Psychologist Maslow believes that people must first solve their own food and clothing problems, and they need a safe and non-threatening environment. Based on these needs, people want love and belonging when their survival is guaranteed. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1983, pp.243-256), if people ignore the sense of love and belonging, jumped to meet a higher level needs, and people cannot fill the emptiness and loneliness psychologically, the lack of belongingness can cause a lot of anxiety and even increase a person’s risk of depression. When people come to an unfamiliar environment, the first thing is to actively build their sense of belonging. At this time, those items full of memory can quickly make a new place without memory become a little related to people. When the person is in a new environment, without family and friends, mementos that can trigger memories become a great emotional sustenance.

Many times, people’s memory will be vague. They will also wonder about what makes them as right now. The memory function of human brain is limited, and as time passed by, people cannot completely remember the previous stories of their life. That’s why a lot of old things are needed to help people recall their “footprints”. There are many things that people don’t want to forget, but people can’t control themselves to not forget. Because of the help of those objects, people can understand their own experiences and past more clearly, and they can also recall the scenes and stories at that time all.

Every object has a meaning for their existence. And people give things different meanings. Rather than saying that the item is important, the most precious thing is the memory that the item represents. Everyone’s experience is different, and the objects around them are different. In my opinion, people should find and keep their “memory containers” rather than hoarding various items to satisfy their own vanity.


Raining, Chenxi Zhan, watercolor on paper, 2022, 12” x 10”

Motherless, Fay Ballard, graphite and crayon on paper, 57.5 x 53cm, 2017

Pinky Bear, oil on panel, 6” x 6”, 2022

Floating, watercolor on panel, 12” x 10”, 2022

Bracelet , 2022, graphite on paper, 2022, 5”x10”

Jar of Wishing Stars, 2022, graphite on paper, 2022, 5”x10”

Matryoshka Doll, 2022, graphite on paper, 2022, 5”x10”

Golden Pendant, 2022, graphite on paper, 2022, 5”x10”


Baudrillard, J. (1996). The System Of Objects. [online] Available at:

Jaś Elsner and Cardinal, R. (1997). The cultures of collecting. London: Reaktion Books.

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), pp.370–396. doi:

McLeod, S. (2018). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [online] Simply Psychology, Simply Psychology, pp.1–16. Available at:

Miller, D. (2010). Stuff. [online] Google Books. Polity. Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2022].

Turkle, S. (2007). Evocative objects : things we think with. Cambridge, Mass.: Mit Press.

About the author

Chenxi Zhan is an artist who makes painting and illustration. She works between London, UK, and Vancouver, Canada. She studied MA Fine Art: Painting at Camberwell from 2021 to 2022. Follow her work at @yy_kdcz.