The Memory Pot

Made by Philip Gates

Can a piece of cookware be used to mobilize the kitchen as a place for reflection? And can we design an object with memory that is itself an object of memory?

Created: February 4th, 2018



At the beginning of this investigation, I set out to design an object that would take advantage of the kitchen as a site for reflection. Kitchens carry strong associations and memories: think of family recipes that have been passed on for generations, or a cookbook filled with scrawled notes from the last person to use it. At the same time, the kitchen can be a place of the most mundane everyday behaviors that leave little to no impression. My original concept was a piece of cookware that would record video while in use, which users could then examine to reflect on their lives as lived in the kitchen, joining the sentimental with the mundane.

I was secondarily interested in whether an object with memory could itself become an object of memory. As my research and experimentation proceeded, I became much more interested in this second question, and ultimately my investigation became about how (or even whether) we can turn an everyday object that we have no prior relationship with into an object of memory. Additionally, how does the object itself participate in this relationship and how might it remember?



I created a “lived prototype” of this relationship by spending 24 hours with a pot that I own, one that I have no strong prior memories associated with. I brought the pot with me everywhere I went for those 24 hours, carrying it in my hands when moving from place to place rather than placing it in a bag or other container. In the video below, I reflect on this time with the object and the relationship that we formed:


The questions I ask at the end of the video give an indication of what I would want to prototype if I were creating a new physical object instead of exploring an existing one. How would it be possible to embed memories from the journey in the pot itself and not simply in my own documentation (and the food that was prepared)? Options might be building a photo display into the side of the pot that would show photos taken during the object’s journey, or engraving a GPS map of that journey on the side of the pot. I am most interested in the idea of using heat to trigger audio recordings from the pot’s journey, so that future cooking would release memories of the time the object and user spent together in a different context.



My initial idea was inspired by several studies that used SenseCams to inspire reflection (Harper et al 2008, Lindley et al 2011). As I grew more interested in the object-human relationship, I drew on research by Elise van den Hoven and her colleagues and their definition of a “companion” object, one which is utilitarian but becomes sentimental and accumulates memory through frequent use and “travel” (through time as well as space) with its owner. I took this idea of travel literally, which proved rewarding.

The project was heavily influenced by the field of object-oriented ontology, as explored by authors/researchers such as Ian Bogost in his book Alien Phenomenology and Jane Bennett in her book Vibrant Matter. I looked at several specific projects that have explored the perspective or agency of objects: Simone Rebaudengo’s Brad the Toaster (which sells itself on Ebay if it isn’t being used regularly) and Elisa Giaccardi’s work equipping household objects with Autographer cameras.

The idea of a GPS map engraved or etched on the side of the pot was inspired by a 2016 study by Lee, Son, and Nam in which cyclists’ digital bicycle history was engraved onto their bicycle bags.



In keeping with the initial proposed idea of a pot that records video, and inspired by Giaccardi’s work, I took video from the perspective of the pot while I cooked with it, resulting in approximately 90 minutes of video footage (and accompanying audio, used in the video reflection above). I took photo documentation of our travel together, at least one photograph of the pot in the locations we visited over the course of the day. I also shared a selection of these photos as an Instagram story, and documented the responses I received within the Instagram app. Finally, one could say that the meal prepared in the pot was a type of record or outcome of my research into my relationship with the object.


After reviewing the documentation, I was much more interested in the photographs of the pot itself than in the video footage captured “by” the pot. This was in keeping with my interest narrowing from the process of reflection in general to the process of reflecting on the human-object relationship itself. As a result, my subsequent development of ideas surrounding the pot were less about capturing my experience and more about consideration of how the pot itself might be able to remember.

pot with artwork by Erin Mallea (CMU School of Art)
Img 4787.jpg.thumb

Open Questions:

It remains to be seen exactly how my relationship with this object will progress or change as a result of this investigation. I would be curious to check in a month, a year, or several years from now—will cooking with the pot consistently bring back memories of that day? Of this course? Of this time in my life more generally? Will this investigation factor into my decisions about how long I keep the pot or how often I use it? Or to be brief: have I successfully “forced” an object of memory into existence?

I’m interested in an idea a classmate floated on the crit doc: what if there were two identical objects, one that has memories associated and one that does not? How does the object relationship change in such a case?



This project proved very rewarding as a framework for considering object-human relationships and how memory functions inside of those relationships. It took me a little while to hone in on what the real focus of the investigation was; I wish that I had been able to get more focused a little sooner in the process so that I perhaps could have gotten farther with the exploration by the time we presented in class. At the same time, I do feel that my openness in the process was valuable; by leading with my relationship with the object, learning from that experience, and directing my subsequent research/activities accordingly, I ended up taking the investigation in a direction that I might not have gotten to if I had made firmer decisions early on.

If we were to continue with this project, I would want to have some sort of physical prototype of how the pot might remember, whether that be the GPS trace or the heat-triggered audio. I am looking forward to getting more hands-on experience with the physical computing side of things as this course progresses, so that I will have more tools to develop even a very rough sketch of these kinds of ideas for future projects.



Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant matter: a political ecology of things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bogost, I. (2012) Alien phenomenology, or, What it's like to be a thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Giaccardi, E., Cila, N., Speed, C., & Caldwell, M. (2016). Thing Ethnography. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems - DIS 16. 

Harper, R., Randall, D., Smyth, N., Evans, C., Heledd, L., and Moore, R. The past is a different place: They do things differently there. Proceedings of the Conference on Designing Interactive Systems. ACM Press, New York, 2008, 271–280.

Lee, M., Son, O. and Nam, T. Patina-inspired Personalization: Personalizing Products with Traces of Daily Use. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems - DIS 16.

Lindley, S., Glancy, M., Harper, R., Randall, D., Smyth, Nicola. “Oh and how things just don't change, the more things stay the same”: Reflections on SenseCam images 18 months after capture. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Volume 69, Issue 5, 2011, 311-323.

Rebaudengo, S. Brad the Toaster

Zijlema, A., Hoven, E. V., & Eggen, B. (2016). Companions: Objects accruing Value and Memories by being a Part of our Lives. Proceedings of the 28th Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction - OzCHI 2016.

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48-528 Responsive Mobile Environments

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The theme for 2018 will be the exploration of human memory and how digital and connected technology can support, augment, enhance, effect and alter the ways in which we remember, recount and reflec...more


Can a piece of cookware be used to mobilize the kitchen as a place for reflection? And can we design an object with memory that is itself an object of memory?