The Modular Form: A Review of Pafford and Fancher’s Potent Object Project | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 7, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1753-5190
  • E-ISSN: 1753-5204



Potent Object Project (POP), designed by Patricia Fancher and Brent Pafford, is an ongoing multimodal participatory art project/pedagogy that uses the modular form to facilitate, as they say, ‘experience, connection, and shared meaning’ amongst communities in and around Clemson University’ (Fancher and Pafford 2014). In the first stage of the project, the designers created 500 mugs, tagged them with QR tracking codes, then shared them with 500 students and professors across the disciplines, particularly, though, first-year composition students; each participant wrote a short story about his or her own life, recorded it, and then represented it visually by drawing a message or icon on the mug, either on the lines painted onto the mugs or over and outside of the lines (Fancher and Pafford 2014). Over the course of the next two weeks, they took the mugs out of the classroom and used them in their everyday lives, effectively transforming a public project into a utilitarian object (Fancher and Pafford 2014). At the end of the two weeks, participants took ‘selfies’ with their mugs then shared them with other members of the community, in addition to submitting the audio and images for POP’s digital Mug Archive.

The project’s cyber spaces (WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr) allow anyone who has found a mug to share a story, an image, and interconnect, so while mugs were moving and cyber connections were made, two installations took place in disparate physical venues, effectively reaching those who wouldn’t otherwise reach out. The first venue: the campus’ art gallery, wherein attendees could enjoy the sight of the mugs and participate by offering their own stories (‘Acorn’ 2014); the second: a digital media lab on library’s main floor, a central campus location, wherein previous participants could re-connect with the project and explore the narratives projected on the walls and newcomers could take part (‘Brown’ 2014). Whereas some participants couldn’t part with their mugs, others passed them along to strangers or those closest to them (Fancher 2014; Harris 2014). The project remains ongoing. Fancher explains, ‘This thing has legs beyond me and Brent’s control. We’re really excited to see how/where this brings us, where our mugs go, and what we learn by letting the mugs and the students lead the way’ (2013).


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