The art gallery where I work has a new system for dealing with objects that are paired with other objects but can be shown without its complementary pieces in the database system they use. Instead of creating another object record, they are calling these objects “Virtual Objects.” An example of this is a tea cup from a tea set; it can be shown alone. A tea-pot lid would not be considered a virtual object.
My adviser would often ask students whether the work they showed was one piece or many, and she told me that she thinks that saying it is both is sloppy and trendy. She thinks that people should push themselves to make a decision.
Learning about this new procedure for dealing with objects from a museum’s point of view makes me think that it’s not only trendy but a new way of thinking about things. Artists can now tell museums whether pieces of things can be shown without other components.
Whether it comes from Ranciere or museum practices, I care about the way things effect the “read” of an individual piece. I think that when people say that work is one piece and many at the same time they are taking the way things are read into consideration.