Crossroads of ex-istence - performing object-events toward an unconditional ethos of death

Jennings, Sarah
O'Connor, Maria
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Master of Art and Design
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Auckland University of Technology

Research Questions: How might an object-event (object-life) perform a vivifying ethos for participants in relation to conditions of death as everyday? As a spatial design ethics how might this research deepen our perceptions of death-related everyday experiences whereby an unconditional mode of living expresses something fundamental to being human?

This Spatial Design Masters project works toward an ethos of death as life-giving that is takes from social and cultural differences of death rites. It then moves toward a far more primordial unconditional experience of life-death continuum to explore how spatial design relational installation practices can produce affective learning experiences that operate within existential living. The practice seeks to learn from cultural differences but in order to work into the concept of Jacques Derrida’s unconditional as the gift of death — it works simply at a base human level (that is more than fathomable). Whether we can know the certainty of being mortal is not the question here —rather this work is underpinned by philosophical and design questions around existence to reveal that we are nothing but uncertain and mysterious creatures. The philosophical work is largely framed by Jacques Derrida’s concept of ‘the gift’ with particular relation to his writing on the gift of death. It takes also from Marcel Mauss’ work on the gift as that operating within an exchange or return cultural framework. The two interrelating positions are composed within my spatial design research as a way of moving from specific cultural, social and political life (as exchange conditions) toward an ethos of death as an unconditional gift for bringing us closer to more profound ways for considering our existence. It is a philosophical enquiry into how conditions of death and values of contemporary capitalist modes of living symptomatically produce a problematic ethical experience with respect to how death is treated as something to be harshly separated from living. This project attempts what it calls an ethics or ethos toward death in its attempt to express death as another form of living. It also takes inspiration from everyday artistic modes and expressions of novels and films that provide me with cues or narratives that exist out there influencing and reflecting our popular perceptions for what it means to be human. These different narratives provide me with insights into how there is an advanced repression in our encounters with death in our current and increasingly globalised cultural life worlds. My own material responses for this Masters comes through a process of locating everyday discarded architectural infrastructural objects, which in their abandoned and ruined state produce great potential for new life through my own encounter and collection of them; in bringing them ‘back’ into our everyday perception they offer points of revivification that correspond object and human relations. In this process of resuscitating the object-becomes-event (object-life) as a trace marking of still life, living on. In this sense, my practice is one of response and responsibility to a special kind of listening to the mysterious lives of others (human and non). In making strange, uncanny or ‘new’ the association with these found-objects, my practice narratives multiple possible readings of living on. Each new reading gives life to the way these objects may have been located in history, but also how they live-on through a new kind of living archive, which my practice installs. Ultimately, they are both allegorical and literal objects that event relations of life and death. The ‘final’ presentation or installation aims to show a kind of paradox in the works; a paradox that insists on two directions of death; its clinical and repressed condition (as marked by an overt install of a fourth wall) that then also deconstructs to invite another encounter of death as an existential teacher on how we live relationally with other beings that perform our vital expression. This paradox opens up the possibility of the unconditional and is provided its strategic approach through deconstruction as an initiator of moving outside neat binary attitudes of either/or — here the deconstruction of the ‘back-slash’ simplicity of life/death marks instead the spatial everyday continuum of life and death eventing, breaking free from the mastery of subject/object relations.

Death , Object-event
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