D. Graham Burnett and Sal Randolph will speak at the Seminar in Cultural History on Wednesday, January 25, 2012. Their talk is entitled “The Order of the Third Bird: Documents and Considerations.”

Some degree of confusion exists concerning the history and activities of the body known as “The Order of the Third Bird”—which would seem, at least in its modern incarnation, to be a clubbish and somewhat arcane association of histrionic aesthetes. The manifest form of the Order’s current work takes the shape of ritual performances of collective “attention” to works of art. To what end? A fragment of their own writings offers the following:

“The number of accumulated works of art in the world now exceeds the number of persons on the planet. If each of these human artifacts can be understood as a reified request for attention, the nature and scale of the problem immediately becomes apparent. The Order of the Third Bird—an association of like-minded individuals (together with an intimate penumbra of splitters and apostates) who work at the convergence of performance and aesthetic theory—have devoted themselves to this overwhelming cause.”

Making use of available documentation, Burnett and Randolph will attempt a brief synopsis of the Order’s principles and preoccupations. But the focus of the evening will be the ongoing efforts to sift an emerging archive that bears on the genealogy of the Order’s practices. Is it possible to trace the history of the Order, and to make sense of its sublated entanglement with crucial moments in the philosophy of aesthetics? Surprising new sources are continuously coming to light, and require both public airing and critical scrutiny.

D. Graham Burnett is Professor of History at Princeton University and Editor of Cabinet Magazine, based in Brooklyn, NY. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with an A.B. in History from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University. A historian of science, Dr. Burnett has published extensively on the intersection of science, philosophy, and history. His 2007 book, Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature (Princeton University Press, 2007), was the winner of both the 2007 Hermalyn Prize in Urban History and the 2008 New York City Book Award. His latest book, Save the Whales? Science, Politics, and Conservation in the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press), has just been published. Recently, Dr. Burnett has been interested in the connection between science and the visual arts, co-curating a variety of exhibitions in 2010, including The Slice: Cutting to See at The Architectural Association in London and An Ordinal of Alchemy at The Cabinet Space in Brooklyn.

Sal Randolph is an artist whose work engages with social interactions, gift economies, public spaces and publishing. She received her B.A from Harvard/Radcliffe in Biological Anthropology and has studied at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. Her work has appeared in Cabinet, Glowlab, Pace Digital Gallery, Mass MOCA, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (NGBK) in Berlin, and BüroFriedrich Gallery in Berlin. Additionally, she has taught and lectured as a visiting artist at several institutions, including the Massachusetts College of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design.