FAILURE, RITUAL, & THE HORROR OF NEGATION – Juliette Kristensen

RESPONSE #2  Juliette Kristensen

To start: My interest in the object is rooted in failure. As a design historian working between visual and material culture, I circle around those objects that are the failures of design, that are the failures of technology; these are the also-rans, the nearly-made-its, and the out-and-out failures-as-soon-as-they-emerge.

In researching failed historical objects, my research methodology swerves between attending to the object and attempting to contextualise it within its world. It is to be a fox of the world and a hedgehog of the object.

This swerving, or oscillating, is a continually giving method, as an expanded and embedded sense of my research area is generated with both each addition to the context of the failed object’s world and with each experience of the object itself. But mostly it gives as I oscillate back and forth between object and context while pacing my garden late at night, cup of tea in one hand, cigarette in another. Here, then, is my personal, and unhealthy, research ritual developed and performed these last ten years.

D. Graham Burnett introducing the Order of the Third Bird practice 24.10.13

D. Graham Burnett introducing the Order of the Third Bird practice 24.10.13

And whilst all of us on The 100 Hours project, as individual researchers, have our own rituals of research, there was a palpable sense of group hesitancy as The Order of The Third Bird was introduced at our last meeting. Was it a peculiar British aversion to group ritual? Was it a curious wondering about the cultish nature of The Order? As letterpress printed liturgical cards were distributed to hands around the table and our fingers ran across their surfaces, feeling the impression of ink by the metal type into roughly textured laid paper, one of Graham Burnett’s framings of the ritual as a participatory ethnography assuaged the group, re-placing us somewhere near familiar academic territory.

In the four stage process of encounter, attention, negation and realisation, it was within the central coupling of attending and negating that I found myself first walking familiarly and then stumbling through an unknown land.

In returning to the attention stage of the ritual a week later, I seemingly involuntarily bring to mind the micro-historical, that asks us – indeed, instructs us – to pay attention to the specific, to the individual, to the particular. Carlo Ginzburg’s ‘Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method’ seems to hover at the peripheries of the ritual of The Order. As I now understand object attention, in a post-ritual state, and through the rubric of The Order, it is as a form of micro-history without the history; it is as a form of Holmesian analysis without the world.

For the Order’s ritual of attention explicitly calls for occlusion of the history and culture of the macro – say the Bank of England, or the workings of the global economy. Instead it demands we attend to the minor, to the one, to a particular £10 note, to it as it is, all the time bracketing learning and judgement. And in this bracketing, it seems to take the form of a response to the philosopher Edmund Husserl’s call to arms: ‘To the things themselves!’

Again and again the singularity of the £10 note under the attending body pushed its way forward: from its particular design features, according to its batch; to its unique serial number, the guarantee of its place in the series; to its distinctive map of creases and folds, the result of passing through hands, wallets, fingers, pockets, mouths, cash registers, purses, and pockets as either a folded, rolled or stuffed thing; to its faintly metallic smell, as a carrier of the trace of its lesser cousins, the coins; finally to its distinguishing stains, its own stigmata having suffered the indignity of a compromised biro.

Then we negate. A battle of unmaking the object begins, as we make attempts to counter it, to object to its objecthood. Performing this stage of the ritual in the UCL’s Rock Room offered its own impossibility, as the surrounding geological images and objects repeatedly conjured the £10 note back into existence. But more than this, to cancel the object at the point at which it is rooting itself into the ground was a peculiar horror, running against the years of research training through which we have become accustomed to folding new objects into an already existent ecology of knowledge.

But there is relief. After the horrors of negation, we reach realisation: the object is integrated back into the world. The final line in my notes: How careless we are with our symbols.

One response to “FAILURE, RITUAL, & THE HORROR OF NEGATION – Juliette Kristensen

  1. I love your evocation of your research ritual Juliette! Trying to get my head into a new job and new objects, I realise how lost I feel without my established rituals. My coffee mug gives such a sense of permanence!

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