RESPONSE #1 Leonie Hannan
“to grasp meaning through matter”
The Alien versus the Familiar:
As Ludovic gave us a detailed physical description of the ten pound note, he went through a process that brought us nearer to certain details of the note, but at the same time distanced us from this familiar artefact of everyday life. Elin Jones emphasised the value of this process of alienation, which allowed her to look at the bank note with fresh eyes, recognise different aspects of its material construction, and from this basis ask new questions of it. James Paz had anticipated the need for distance from the beginning of our project, choosing an object (an oracular bust from the Petrie Museum) from a time and a place about which he knew very little. Kate Smith dwelt, instead, on the idea of recognition – a ten pound note being highly recognisable, necessarily so, and yet oddly unscrutinised on a daily basis. Having performed our basic, tactile and visual checks – we understand the bank note as currency and exchange it without a further glance. A bank note is something that rarely attracts our lingering gaze. Bringing such an invisibly common artefact under Ludovic’s critical eye helped us to think about it as an alien artefact, acknowledge all of its physical attributes, in order to discuss it in familiar terms once again. As Kate points out – the discussion moved from one about all tenners, to a conversation about ‘our tenner’. Our ten pound note – that is in fact quite unique with its serial number JH71 000571.
As Ludovic and the rest of us attempted to describe the note, it was passed around. Mat Paskins acknowledged the irresistible urge to touch it – a reflex action – despite the mutual recognition of the grime that fingers, pockets, wallets, counters, and tills all bestowed upon an average bill. This need to touch has been echoed in several of the researchers’ responses, especially concerning the process of choosing a museum object to study. Emily Orr changed her selection on the basis of wanting to work with an object that she could not only look at but also turn around in her hands.
Together, the process of making a physical description of an object and holding in in your hands leads to the ability, as James so nicely put it, of being able “to grasp meaning through matter”. I think this is what we all took away from our meeting with Ludovic – the importance of working through the material to get to questions of the social or the cultural, the historical or the literary.
Asking New Questions
Katy Barrett made the valuable observation that studying material culture helps the researcher to move across traditional boundaries of discipline or field. Elin put it another way, she explained how she had been drawn to material things because they helped her to ask different questions about her chosen subject. Emily’s response is a good example of this process in action – the durable quality of currency had come through in our conversation and Emily turned this question on her own chosen object – a ten-legged stool – a pertinent question of an artefact apparently so over-endowed with stabilising assets. Likewise, Tullia Giersberg took her response to the artwork entitled Death of Seneca (UCL Art Museum collections) back to its material construction, considering the meanings denoted by the ingredients contained in red chalk.
“forensic, defacement, disease, fractal, discipline, absence, possession, reproduction, misuse, texture…” (Sarah Longair)
“value, iconography, authenticity, disease, danger, forging, and fetishism” (Kate Smith)
Sarah and Kate both took away series of words that described our discussion of the ten pound note and started to apply these to their own objects. ‘Absence’ was particularly resonant for Sarah’s initial analysis of the dodo bones in the Grant Museum’s collection – first through the absences of flesh and feathers and then in terms of the ultimate absence of the dodo as a living species. This is the first iteration of a process that we hope to see repeated, again and again, over the course of 100 Hours.
Finally, the issue of transformation came out strongly in our conversation in September, in terms of the changes we will make to our ten pound note over the course of our time with it – changes we can’t help but make, and those that we could choose to carry out. Sarah emphasised the fact that we will take this bank note out of circulation as currency and will, instead, involve it in a different kind of circulation – it will pass from researcher to researcher and be kept intact and secure by our group until we have no more need of it. It is a temporarily treasured tenner and one that I hope will transform our conversations in the coming months.