Presence in Absence by Colm Keller

Graduate designer Colm Keller has created a pair of ceramic and birch usb pendants for couples with long-distance relationships.

Called Presence in Absence, the project comprises the pendents (which are initially one piece of beech that the users divide with a craft knife) a porcelain hub for the memory sticks and a case to contain all these items, made of felt and leather.

Each memory stick is intended as a symbol of being in a relationship, and users are meant to share the data and contents when they meet up.

Keller designed the kit while studying at HDK in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Photographs are by Christoffer T. Duff.

Here's some more information from Colm Keller:


This is Irish designer Colm Keller's thesis project at HDK in Göteborg, Sweden. The project highlights the issue of increasing long-distance relationships and the drawbacks of computer mediated communication. I wanted to include the reflective, relaxing qualities of crafts as way to build an emotional bond between users and the object. It also hopes to open a dialogue about how we will value our digital artifacts in the future – our digital heirlooms.

The kit contains four parts and these are as follows:

  • A digital scrapbook finished in birch wood with porcelain caps.
  • A carving knife with laminated steel blade and birch and oak handle.
  • A hub for both digital scrapbooks finished in porcelain.
  • A carrying envelope finished in grey felt, brown aniline leather with birch duffel button and laser cut details.

The scrapbook is designed so that it can be cut in half slowly using the carving knife provided. Then each partner can take a half and shape it to their own desire. The time spent splitting and carving the object should help to build this emotional bond between user and object. The more exclusive materials hope to raise the value of our digital objects today.

Enabling the person to wear it on their clothing or as a pendant around the neck reinforces its primary affordance as a symbol of a relationship. It becomes a subconscious reminder of the partner and during the time apart it slowly starts to fill up with content that can be shared upon rejoining.

Upon rejoining the couples can contrast and compare the physical appearance with the contents of each portion. Maybe the two will differ drastically, a reflection of the time invested by the users. The sharing of the media in each scrapbook is a ritual that the couples will look forward to while apart and enjoy upon re-joining. Listening to music or looking at photographs, movies are not the same if you have no one to share them with. The porcelain hub reiterates this ritual. By placing the two parts side-by-side it gives a semantic hint that they belong together.