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An artist hopes the stories of our treasured objects can help us understand each other

What objects give meaning to our lives? Kerianne Quick, artist in residence at San Diego’s New Americans Museum, spent a year researching people’s treasured possessions -- and the stories behind them -- for an innovative project in which she preserves them as 3-D laser art. KPBS reporter Maya Trabulsi reports on the exhibit “A Portrait of People in Motion.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    What objects give meaning to our lives?

    KPBS reporter Maya Trabulsi talked to an artist who gathered things special to San Diego residents and preserved them as 3-D laser art.

    It is part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    When you walk into the New Americans Museum, you may wonder where the art exhibit is. But if you look closer, you will see a pen knife, a bell, a figurine. And if you look even closer, you will learn about the stories embedded in these objects.

  • Kerianne Quick:

    Each one of these individual stories come together as a chorus, in my view.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    Kerianne Quick is the artist in residence here.

  • Kerianne Quick:

    When you start with something specific, something completely surprising can unfold, something you never would have access to otherwise.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    Something specific like a typewriter?

  • Kerianne Quick:

    Like a typewriter, yes, yes.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    For her exhibit called A Portrait of People in Motion, she spent over a year gathering treasured objects from San Diego residents. But, more importantly, she gathered the stories that accompany them.

  • Kerianne Quick:

    If we can feel some of that emotion about what it's like to try to figure out how to live in a new place, then maybe we can empathize with those who are experiencing the most extreme version of that discomfort.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    The item is scanned, and then 3-D printed or laser engraved to leave behind what Kerianne calls a ghost, transparent, with faint detail, yet still teeming with the story of how it came to San Diego.

  • Kerianne Quick:

    The story is the art piece. The objects that are represented here, they're just a way in to those stories. And, yes, the objects are transparent. And that's on purpose.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    Some objects are made of clear resin. Others are acrylic.

  • Kerianne Quick:

    The light as it projects through the laser-engraved surface, it creates a shadow where the writing almost becomes legible.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    At first glance, they are hard to see against the stark white wooden furniture designed to look like furniture in a home. But looking closer is exactly what Kerianne wants you to do.

  • Kerianne Quick:

    And when they look closer, and they wonder what that — what the thing is that they're looking at, they are given access to the story that is behind it.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    Kerianne also recorded the oral histories of each piece. They can be played by dialing a number on your phone and then the corresponding number of the item.

  • Man:

    My object is a jacket that, when I was in Korea during the Korean War, this was a jacket that I, in effect, stole from the Army.

  • Woman:

    From 1971 to now, we have lived many places, and the recipes have gone with me.

  • Woman:

    My object is a little tiny Inuit figure that was given to me in 1945 by my first boyfriend, who was stationed in the Aleutians.

  • Woman:

    And I think just seeing it makes me feel at home, because I grew up seeing it.

  • Kerianne Quick:

    The crux of what I'm trying to do here is to help people, people in general, feel something that might make them treat their neighbor a little bit better.

  • Maya Trabulsi:

    And as the sound of plane engines roar above this little museum under the San Diego flight path, it offers a subtle reminder that we are all people in motion.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Maya Trabulsi in San Diego.

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