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


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

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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