A show and a tell about serendipity, or:
Wer schlecht sucht findet

Ralo Mayer


Preliminary recap, May 13th, 2019


This is a story about researching, and a research about storytelling, and it’s all about making sense of ourselves in the world through a phenomenon of accidental sagacity. 

And it begins in Venice, somehow.

There are not many words about which we know exactly when they were created. 

Serendipity, for instance, came into the world on January 28th, 1754, in a letter by Horace Walpole to his friend Horace Mann. Walpole had just made an accidental discovery in an old book about Venetian coats of arms. He called it “Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you (...) better by the derivation than by the definition.” He goes on to describe “a silly fairy tale”, The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian story that had been published in Venice in 1557, in which the three princes find a mule by “accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description)”.

And from the beginning everything is all wrong and mixed up. The princes didn’t find a mule, they found a camel. More importantly, they didn’t find it by serendipity at all. They found it by deduction and interpreting clues. It’s a detective story. So – that expressive new word about accidental sagacity emerged from an accident of fabulation.


I talked to a lot of people about serendipity. I used my magic arm and a microphone and some cards; here, on a station in the Reseacrh Pavilion, but also outside, in the courtyard, in cafés, lobbies, restaurants, on a mole. I recorded a lot of wind and rain, but there was also sunshine. 

You told me stories about traveling and walking, and hearing the word the first time while sailing to Serendip (which is now called Sri Lanka), about meeting other people and falling in love. You told me it was part of your very inner fabric, and that you hate it. You told me fantastic stories about the origin of the word and that you refuse it because you never remember what it means. We tried to find translations in our languages and we tripped over the uneven floor and each other and sometimes got lost, like, in a good way. 

I laid the cards for you, printed on a Japanese device that I had found by serendipity myself, and you chose your card and perhaps you will not lose it.

To sum up my preliminary findings:


stories to make sense of the world, it mostly happens when traveling & moving, it’s like falling in love, with people & art & science, I always use “stumbling upon” which is just another word for tripping, & slapstick might be the hilarious idiot sibling of mostly serious and sometimes even  smelly esoteric se-ren-di-pi-ty, some word to trip up on indeed. WER SCHLECHT SUCHT FINDET.