Mystery Things Museum: On Collecting Perceptions

I have a chance to join Mystery Things Museum by IdLab, which initially launched on October 3 - 4, 2016 at Tim Space Milano. Then after its success, the exhibitors recently continue with the 2nd edition on November 2 - 3, 2016 which took place at Base Milano.

I was surprised by the number of visitors. This 2nd edition of Mystery Things Museum organized in the modest area of the hostel. The objects were placed in the common room and the collections located instead in 3 private suites.

The visitors are encouraged to explore each object and collections through these questions:

"Che cos’è questa cosa che vedi? Come funziona? A cosa serve?"

These could refer to what is the thing we've seen, how does it work, and what is it for. As a designer, I enjoy decoding the function of things as well, even I have no idea what are they. Many things seem familiar to me as I have seen them before in China Town, Bangkok.

"They should be more selective. Many things are not so mysterious."
That is a feedback I have heard from another Asian girl at the corner. I assumed that she have found that many objects do not seem strange to her. She might expect to see mysterious objects due to the name of the event. But there is the story behind that she might not aware of.

As we look closely, each object has a hand-stamp and handwritten label indicated its source and the name of the person who brought it to the museum. To me, this is the essence. Mystery Things Museum's concept is to collect the object brought by the visitors according to these conditions:

  • They must be “mysterious”- the objects which seem beautiful and interesting but have failed to make us understand their functioning or reason of being
  • They must be small in size for placing on a table
  • They mustn’t be precious, rare, or expensive (because the museum does not provide insurance)

This crowdsourcing concept allowed the museum to gathered objects from around the world.

I understand that Mystery Things Museum works based on the assumption that things are made for the particular purpose as we can say production precedes existence [a], so the exhibitors aim to collect things that failed to make us understand their purpose of being.

And what makes it mysterious?

According to my on-site observation, our perception of mystery could be defined in these following points:

1. Mystery by cultural diversity

Oggetto misterioso n.5 Che cos’è questa cosa che vedi in foto? Come funziona? A cosa serve?

A photo posted by Mystery Things Museum (@mysterythingsmuseum) on

Cultural, as well as social, diversity  affected our viewpoints in some way. For example, I this collection is a part of Chinese ritual. I as an Asian could understand it right away while the others seem so curious and consider the object in aesthetical point instead.

2. Mystery by time

Oggetto misterioso n.6 Che cos’è questa cosa che vedi in foto? Come funziona? A cosa serve?

A photo posted by Mystery Things Museum (@mysterythingsmuseum) on

Vintage or ancient objects that have already faded from out daily basis, as result of the change in societies (even without any motivations). In this picture, I saw a set of card with Thai numbers on it. I am Thai but I have no idea what it should be, when it was produced, even the period of time people use this thing.  That makes it mysterious to me.

3. Mystery by consequences of revolutions.

Like the result by time, but with specific motivations. As the introduction by Gianfranco Cavaglià – a well-known Italian architect, which curated his objects mainly from industrial and craftsmanship sectors. For example, the curve making tool in the car industry or a lap stand used by shoemakers. I was impressed by the way he interpreted the world of mystery by the effects of industrial revolution. Many professionals were replaced by industrial processes, makes their skills no longer needed.

4. Mystery by personal perceptions.

Oggetto misterioso n. 22 di Camilla Marini, provenienza Giappone Che cos’è questa cosa che vedi in foto? Come funziona? A cosa serve?

Una foto pubblicata da Mystery Things Museum (@mysterythingsmuseum) in data:

There are things that we are not familiar with, even they are objects that widely used.  
Somes were made for specific purposes but we have not aware of their functions. Somes seem they were made for no specific purpose, but they could serve us in various possibilities which lead us to the general question -- what exactly does it make for?

5. Mystery by the intention of the creators.

Oggetto misterioso n. 61 di @risveglio, provenienza Londra. Che cos’è questa cosa che vedi in foto? Come funziona? A cosa serve?

A photo posted by Mystery Things Museum (@mysterythingsmuseum) on

These objects were created with the intention to make them mysterious: by their shapes, features, or functions. They usually are toys, collectible or decorative objects. For starting conversations in the common rooms where they placed.

Oggetto misterioso n.11 di Giulia Vai, provenienza Italia Che cos’è questa cosa che vedi in foto? Come funziona? A cosa serve?

A photo posted by Mystery Things Museum (@mysterythingsmuseum) on

I impressed to see the diversity of perspectives from the visitors. The way one feels 'mysterious' or how one perceives the object completely in opposite way the creators intended.

If there are the object that we, human, feel mysterious in common. It could be an object from outer space or thing that comes to us by time-travelled method (if time-travel exists).

So, the collection of Mystery Things Museum, are subjectivity.

For those who interested, you might bring something in your house that seems mysterious to you. But for me (who always moving), who living without collecting habit, this could be my homework for the next edition.

 [a] Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialisme est un humanisme. English.