In Praise of Ordinary Objects

Text by Marta Knaś

Thematic, independently published magazines continue to multiply, zooming onto details of our daily lives that would otherwise have remained overlooked. And we love them all. Among them is the artbook-like MacGuffin, a biannual publication that takes its reader on a journey towards an appreciation and awe of the most ordinary objects.


The brainchild of design & architecture historians, Kirsten Algera and Ernst van der Hoeven, to understand the concept behind this Amsterdam-based literary treasure it is helpful to trace the etymology of its title. The word ‘MacGuffin’ – defined in the dictionary as “an object, event or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion” – dates back to the 1930s, and was allegedly popularized by Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock

“From our point of view, the interest and beauty of objects — either designed or anonymously made — lies in the way they are crafted and used, and the personal relationships we establish with them,” says Algera.  “We decided to make a magazine that could offer alternative ways of talking about design, one that would use an object as a starting point to explore a whole range of stories it generates – from the mundane to the downright exotic.”

The journal launched in 2015, choosing the bed as the focal point for its debut. Issue 2 takes on windows, and the most recent edition settled on rope as its main subject. “And we still have an enormous bucket list of favourite objects we think deserve a MacGuffin edition – from the staircase to the spoon, from the brick to the hole. We don’t think we will ever retire…”MacGuffin-Links-Iceland-Bed
The challenge of showing seemingly prosaic items through an artistic lens keeps MacGuffin’s founders excited about the process of assembling content. From Douglas Coupland’s horror story on the physique of windows and window phobia to Blommers and Schumm’s photographic essay on ship knots, the magazine confronts us with the beauty and origins of the things that we take for granted. “It’s rather strange that things we use on a regular basis are getting far less attention than iconic products and gadgets. As if their existence was so evident that we can forget them,” ponders Algera.

MacGuffin proves the fascinating quality of objects lies in their ability to make us happy or sad. On a more abstract level, the theory put forward by Sam Jacob in Issue 1 gives substance to the magazine’s concept: the invention of ‘things’ in the Stone Age withdrew the relationship between humanity and nature, transforming humans into cultural beings. Objects make us human as much as we make them objects, and this reciprocal relation between what we have, how we use it, and how it makes us feel is what ensures each issue is a worthwhile adventure.

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