RESPONSE #2 Liz Haines
‘I’m unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience… Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered in torn paper, to join me among the piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again … the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present… For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as an order?’ Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library.
1-Wrenching, crouching, marching. Benjamin tells us, (and probably we recognise this from our own experience), how the promise of knowledge is borne by, and transformed into, affection for the feel and the smell of ‘piles of volumes’. What is perhaps more surprising is that he describes their future, lined back up on shelves, as the ‘mild boredom of order’. They will have become, once again, familiar items that the gaze slips over on a daily basis. Not less loved, but less noticed.
2- Galton’s roving eye. On meeting my object (stereoscopic slides from the Galton Collection), I realised I wanted to use my ten encounters to explore how the presences of things wax and wane in our daily lives. I would like to test a trajectory of attention I have imagined for the slides, where they move from being the centre of great excitement when Galton first received them, towards the periphery of his interest. I’d like to test a parallel spatial trajectory, from physical closeness when his eyes and his hands first worked to draw them into focus, through a slow trail across his desk, towards a dusty box on a high shelf, when habit has fully ‘accommodated itself’.
3- Reanimation. Why do I want to do this? Contrary to the hyperrealism of the archival gaze, it seems to me that we often want to use material evidence from the past in a looser more impressionistic way. We want them to pursue an ethnographic impulse. We want them to serve as props, as scenery for imaginative reconstructions of human activity.
4- Material Fluency. This is certainly the case in my research into twentieth-century colonial mapping. From instruments and papers I am hoping to resurrect the collective choreography of a drawing office, the unconscious gestures of a typist and the sweat of the field. Familiarity or fluency with objects can’t be taken for granted. Costly brass instruments were often held and transported by hands that had no ease of use. Training attitudes to certain objects was a means to initiate, and to exclude particular sections of colonial society. I have been looking for methods to expose the diverse attentions these instruments and papers receive at different moments in time. This includes them being ignored, forgotten, broken, and misused.
5- Stretched attentions. In addressing the ten-pound note on the 24th of October we paced, crouched, and stared intently at the wall. This allowed, it seems to me, an insight into some of the dynamics of living with objects. The Third Bird practice of ‘ordering’ our attention had elements that were deliberately theatrical and highly artificial. We did however, get to experience the ten-pound note from a variety of physical positions (rather than in stillness), to experience it from within a body of people, (rather than alone) and to try out the experience of ignoring it. It drew us to some extreme, possibly fanciful, new relationships with the bank note. But it felt good to limber up. It stretched my imaginative muscles just a bit further than I strictly need, which I hope will give me elasticity for future historical feats…