Phenomenology of Bucket

I have, in front of me, this amazingly tactile and geometrically perfect object to contemplate upon; A bucket, collected from a rubbish container. Its visual characteristics bring to mind the fundamentals of the late 1960’s minimalist sculptures. Judd would call this bucket a “specific object” and perhaps Morris would rename it as a “primary structure.” Is it possible to carry the bucket into the formal sculptural discussion as well as an ontological one? The fascinating thing about this object is that it signifies the space outside of it as much as it does the space inside. Inside is the private space; it is intimate. The interior of a bucket often playfully invites you to come closer and take a peek at its contents. The outside of the bucket implies the public sphere, a space which people and objects freely interact with each other and form relationships. A bucket is an object which holds both of these diametric constructions of space within itself. “Extimacy” as Lacan once put it. Something that is intimate but belonging to the external at the same time; just like Rachel Whiteread’s “Ghost”, a sculpture which contains the private nature of domestic interiors on its very exterior.


The everyday bucket for me is a near perfect object. Its robust exterior, owing to its plastic material, has the most perfectly smoothed out surface texture. The little dot in the middle of its bottom of a bucket is so perfectly placed; its mathematical precision could be a match to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. How is a bucket made? The production process of buckets often implies an automated system devoid of human touch. It does, however, still embody the intelligent product design which is a result of an historical accumulation of practical knowledge about everyday practices. When we begin looking outside of the cycle of phenomenological knowledge about objects and their aesthetic qualities it appears that the bucket isn’t just its surface or its function, not is it its design. When the object is freed from the production-consumption dialectic and human economies, it surprisingly opens itself up to an ontological examination.

Where exactly does the first prototype for a plastic bucket originate from? The bucket is the contemporary grandchild of the ancient clay pot which often demonstrates incredible craftsmanship in its design and the gentle human touch in its surface patterns. Is this why I keep on running my fingers up and down this bucket? Is this urge born out of a desire to trace the historical narratives of humanity and its relationship with the world of objects which the mankind created? Am I simply seeking a bridge to cross over to the dawn of domestication of animals, private property and, of course, the creation of artefacts which were nothing but practical tools at the time? The human touch does that! It is capable of transcending the pre-historic phenomenology into a sensory experience if you’re willing to receive.

The bucket is the tangle in a quantum link between my curious self and my just as curious ancestors. The difference between us is that their world was brand new, so they invented everything in it, whereas my world is recycled, reworked, reimagined, and reconstructed so I had to reinterpret it all. Why do we, then, use such an incredible object of transcendence for ordinary purposes? Structurally, a bucket symbolises integrity, and predictability, as its design stays consistent throughout different cultures; a bucket in Tokyo will look very similar to a bucket in San Francisco for example. However, the bucket, at the same time, embodies versatility, flexibility and mobility. By easily turning it upside down, a bucket can become a footstool or a seat to simply sit on. The inside of the bucket can be used to store or carry both dry and wet items. Its handles demonstrate how welcoming it is towards human interaction.

In contemporary households a bucket is such a trivial object it becomes easy to forget if you have one lying around the house. At that point, a bucket is a concept through which these ontological examinations are made possible. We, humans, have an oddly arbitrary association with objects. This relationship is not at all pragmatic but entirely subjective. We often part ways with some objects without a second thought; they then become “things” we must dispose of; while at the same time peculiarly cling to others with a sentimental value. At which point a bucket becomes useless so it ends up in the refuse? A hole at the bottom, perhaps, a crack along the side of it. Broken handles? Alas, I am still deeply preoccupied with the most fundamental question of all; when does a bucket stop being a bucket?


Sheyda A. Khaymaz, The Bucket, Digital Print, 2016


Symptom 9, (no date) Extimity, Jacques-Alain Miller. Available at: