AN ALIEN ARTEFACT – Elin Jones

RESPONSE #1 – Elin Jones

The team are shown the dodo bones

Over the course of our first meeting, we encountered the object we will be discussing and engaging with as a group. As a historian who is primarily concerned with the cultural, social and emotional, my immediate reaction to looking at a ten-pound note in an analytical framework was to attempt to understand it through the nexus of relationships it may have to a history of wealth and value. Indeed, over the course of our discussion it became apparent that this was the go-to analysis of many of the participants of the 100 Hours group. What Ludovic Coupaye was able to demonstrate to us however, was the intrinsic merit of a detailed physical description of the object; of treating it as an almost alien artefact. Through verbal description, Ludovic outlined the dimensions, physicality, imagery, and colour of the note. This enabled us to distance ourselves from it culturally as a group and to ask questions of the object which perhaps would not have become apparent without such an exercise.

The dialogue which emerged from this helped me to further understand the value of not ‘looking through’ the object and assuming its part in different economic and cultural milieu, without considering its physicality. My personal interest in material culture studies stems from a belief that objects make us ask fundamentally different questions to textual and other sources, and that they open up avenues of inquiry involving movement between places and people, the experience of space, and the emotional worlds of individuals. Considering physicality in minute detail enhances our answers to these questions, and seems to proffer up many further ones. These questions involved ideas of making, exchange, design, the senses, as well as what we as individuals add to the object  (physically and in our imagining) when we engage with it.

Furthermore, the venue for our meeting, the Grant Museum of Zoology, served as an omnipresent reminder of another consideration; the connection of our objects to the museums in which they are held, and the routes they have travelled to get there. My own object, a late nineteenth-century travel album (which at time of writing I have yet to meet), is comprised of collections of photographs taken across North America by one or two individuals. The fact that this object exists as a personal collection within a museum collection at UCL Museum of Art raises interesting questions about the nature of how and why museums possess artefacts, as well as how objects are organised and compartmentalized through such institutions.  I hope that on meeting my object, I will be able to employ an understanding of the importance of physicality, museology, and how these concerns intersect with the other discreet lives of the album.

2 responses to “AN ALIEN ARTEFACT – Elin Jones

  1. I was also struck by the surroundings by holding the session in the museum, and look forward to seeing how the environment of the sessions will directly or indirectly shapes the discussion. Also I’m glad you mentioned collections within collections as some of our other objects can be thought about in this way – and how perhaps by putting them all together we’ve created a new collection…

    • After going to meet the object recently, relationship between museum collection and photograph collection seems even more complex, as no-one knows who compiled the album, or why, and how it found its way to the UK and in to UCL’s collections!

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