2016

Catalogue Preview: On the Malice of Objects


[This is the raw version of a document found among more recently archived account files in the Vital Materials hardware store. It appears clipped from some sort of pamphlet, but despite the contemporary dating, the publication details remain uncertain. Payne disappeared soon after the dating of this document. ]

The great and weary Adorno said of technology, ‘[i]t expels from movements all hesitation, deliberation, civility’, subjecting mankind ‘to the implacable, as it were a-historical demands of objects’, so that even the ‘most secret innervations’ of human consciousness must be understood in relation to things (2005: 40). What we take commonly as technology--the smartphones which constellate our daily consciousness, the internal devices within fridges and lifts, the ambient glower of television--certainly shapes our existence in ways both perilous and strange. Where once the focus was neuroscientific, the study of brains and their brilliance, now we lust for the intricacies of circuit-boards, microchips, hardware ghosted with remnant consciousness. Here we are, with softcore internalisations of plastic. Desire rewired on the coppery thoroughfare of sunbeam pornography. When I look for objects, I glimpse the radiant futurity of terrestrial existence, my own identity submerged in yet another galaxy of matter. When summer turns, so does the colour of metal, its insistent stillness betrayed as illusion.

The objects in question were discovered in the humble town of Lanark, situated betwixt two cities like a heart pendant bumping against Scotland’s breastbone. The meteorological context is conditional tranquility, but regarding these objects, the problem of course is ahistoricity. We can chart the cultural significance of our common technologies, but certain devices evade such timelines. Nobody can fit the parts together. What I have seen over the years, the objects of these parts, recalls the early, transcendent sense of technology as an alien phenomenon, just touching the filmy lives of humankind. Think of moon-landings, beaming through television. The starry-eyed characters of Ashes to Ashes, arms of the law broadcast across time with the signalled flickers of RGB screens. The original meaning for broadcast--if we can deal in originals--is the scattering of seeds. The carbonic roots take nourishment from agricultural ground, lacing their wires with nitrogen, glucose, the loamy compounds of bittersweet soil. It is said fifty years ago that a comet blessed this field with vitamin richness; but every meteor shower remains absent, invisible to the local residents, despite an unusual quantity of supplementary eyewear and special telescopes. Out of the randomness I attempt a study of objects, for in every iteration of humanity is some collapsed technology. This is the ancient purpose of writing, though of course not all words are of flying or falling.

One month ago I broke years of silence, of passive, watchful observation. I broke into the Vital Materials store, an outlet I have staked out, studied and pondered for years. Deliveries had long ceased to and from the store, and what’s more the proprietors had let the paint peel, the windows gather dust, dirt--the generalised shit of the world. What a bliss it was to finally burst in those doors, kick aside the illusory detritus of tables and tills; to push back the secret shelf and reveal the hidden staircase to the basement. The smell of engine oil mixed its potency with an unknown musk that felt almost vegetable, like some sort of fungus or rot.

In the basement, upon makeshift plinths a series of unidentified objects were gathered. They were not quite what I saw in the woods over twenty years ago, but certainly they were of a similar style. Curious hybrids, the totalled rubble of a once-glorious era of techno-greatness. I must quash my nostalgia for the science-fiction utopias and dystopias of the eighties. O the Ballardian, postmodern dream! This kitschy fantasy was quickly dissembled as I realised these were not fragments from some space shuttle, car crash or airplane, but rather entities in themselves whose strangeness radiated a force akin to what we might call a future art. These things were curiously compounded by organic forms, the textures of the forest, its parochial flora and fauna.

I felt an energy that I could not quite place in each object; it was less a gamma ray pulsation of noise and more the circling of waves, not unlike the rings around Saturn. I felt myself closed in; haloed by implacable, emanating matter. An evolution within me. There was a kettle in the corner and, somewhat parched and starving, I helped myself to a cup of coffee. The electrical surge from the plug augmented the palpable energy. Even the coffee seemed to coagulate in my mouth, acquiring an impossible viscosity. Everything hummed, stickily, thickly.

Just half an hour amid the queer contours of that darkly ebullient room knocked the words quite from my body. This report has taken me several weeks to assemble. It is difficult to express the strange forms of these objects. Sometimes their contents appeared spilled out, sprawling--modelled on an insect colony of swarming platelets, nuts and screws. As I browsed the aisles, my lungs cloying with dust, a cross-pollination took place in my senses. These eccentric structures did not seem complete; it was as if some originary scar was allowed prominent place on the final product. I could not imagine experiencing one thing in its solitary context, devoid of the transferring effects of refraction that gifted the accidental features in a rippling chain of affective beauty. I try to shy away from this term, with its cheap implication, but the aesthetic power of these objects demanded the word, urged it like the climactic pull of an organism reaching its limit. I thought of blood clotting, glass coming apart in crystalline shards. When the opera singer reaches her point of passion, the lucid annihilation of coloratura.

At one point, I spent too long gazing into the surface of one object, its octogonal shape belying the elaborate helices that flickered within its pellucid surface. When I closed my eyes afterwards, the darkness of each retina burned with fractals. One experiences a similar sensation after a particularly dizzying fairground ride, being plunged and exalted in arabesques of unhuman velocity. I believe something changed again within me; the searing effect of awareness flourished. Awareness of what? This is Adorno’s technology, its expelling of civility. A sudden violence would cascade from my mouth like the sour acids of auto-intoxication, a desire to shatter and discard what brought me to the brink. Door-slamming, plate-smashing, phone-dropping. We are all destroyers of technology. I intended to smash up the lab, make a meal of everything. Something, however, drew me back. I was burned-out, exhausted and gasping.

Standing back outside in that incongruous sunlight, I longed once more for the mystery contraptions, their apparently pointless assemblage of beauty. It is so easy to be seduced by incompletion, the gaping wound with its demand of interpellated surface. I am, I am, I am not what I am. The things seemed to call me like a chorus. Buried inside me, the wound of that originary trauma, the lilac flash of objects in the night, bellowing their presence from the forest clearing!

It was my sensible purpose to script this encounter, to gather data and recount what I saw in that shadowy room. Back on the street, I tried to retrace my steps, to coordinate my unknown location. Already I thirsted for the implicit pulsations, beats and roars or those objects. Their invisible symphonies I heard once more as I stumbled like a drunkard down the coruscating tarmac, the air smelling butterfly-rich and heady. In contrast to those sublime and alien forms, the local landscape, with its throwback pastoral of pleasant greenery, its agrarian lineation of harvest gold, did little for my senses. I experienced that gold and green as if through a hologram film of projected screen. What I longed for was the intimate, weird tactility. The viscid coffee, the dust on my skin. How close I had been to touching the abyssal surface of worlds unknown! But I had not reached out my hand, had not made the gesture of convergence perhaps necessary for bringing each ontic force into collision.

When I tried to find the store again, this place I had orbited for years, I found myself lost in a labyrinth of suburbs. A town so small and yet I misplaced my bearings completely. These crescents curved round into more identikit houses, and soon every window was the absent promise of what I would never see again. Every entrance withdraws you further from discovery, perhaps that is the way--the ontology of all great and mysterious things. I soon grew as weary as my dear Adorno, gathering my passions on the pavement, honing that longing to the smouldering tip of my last cigarette. I implore you, dear reader, to reach out to the void--to seek that vital touch which reveals and conceals in pure possibility. For even as I sleep, the things sing to me, gathering a curious, perilous malice. I can only hope for a future solace, the lighter side in which being is flipped and these visions cool to a new amnesia. This is the solitary trick, the imperative lure of coexistence.