Thinking through Materialites

Working on the Materialities module has been a fascinating process. For the course we were asked to:

…consider the historical conditions, contexts of use, “socio-technical” networks of “entanglement” (Hodder, 2012) or “biography” of a “material” of your own choice. It might be a “material” that you have previously worked with as a designer, or simply a “material” that you love, are intrigued by, or find “evocative” in the sense in which Sherry Turkle has used this term (Turkle, 2007). You need to consider as many of the different possible ways in which your “material” has been understood, used, or defined in all of its different contexts of use and understanding; what John Sutton has described as its “extended” or “distributed” agency (Sutton, J. in Knappett and Malafouris Material Agency: Toward a Non-Anthropocentric Approach, Springer-Verlag, 2008).

And I’ve added this to my “methods and processes” tool kit because I don’t think that the materailities project is just about understanding the materiel or object in different contexts of use. Rather, I think that thinking / exploring theory through the distributed networks of a material or object is a tangible way to approach complex ideas. It’s a similar approach as creating postcards for the Spaces and Practices module, but with more emphasis on making.

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I went to see an old Russian film called Andrei Rublev (by Andrei Tarkovsky) in the cinema last week. The film was long, and a large part of it was devoted to the making of a bell. I wont go into too much detail in case you ever go to see film (you can see a spoiler here), but I bring the bell scenes up because of the way the film approached the materiality of the bell. The scenes are seeped with stuff of the earth, and are wonderfully graphic both visually and audibly. Mud and clay and fire and carbon and molten metal and screeches and beating and creaking, and of course the ringing. But also, I think that after exploring materialities, I had a new perspective on the bell scenes: I noticed how complex ideas and historical contexts were explored through the making of the bell, and through the bell itself. Tarkovsky gives the bell a lead part and a lot of agency in the film, and as a player the bell determines much of the subsequent plot. I am not sure if my understanding of the bell in the context of the film resonates entirely with the extended or distributed agency, but having a way to think with or through things is for me (as a person who makes things with their hands) a very insightful perspective.