How things are entangled with things – Constellation Week 2

Through understanding and thinking how things are linked with things, and linked with us humans, through investigation of these ‘webs of dependency’, we can be supported to re-attune our thinking, perception and practice to the more-than-human world.

“All creative practices involve a collaboration between human and non-human entities; material, ecological, atmospheric, animal, mineral etc. Objects are more than just ‘finished objects’ (the fait accompli); they are the histories of material, human and non-human assemblages that allow the object to exist – they are ‘things’. Things are linked to humans, humans are linked to things, and things are linked to other things in webs of dependency (Hodder, 2012). What we do in the world alters these webs, depends upon these webs, and all too often in ways we may not be aware of.

Through mapping out ‘webs of dependencies’ we will begin to ask how can the perceptual re-ttunement of our modern world (that we investigated last week) be supported by thinking carefully about the webs of material, human and non-human entanglement that our practices exist within.”

To start thinking about other worlds than just the human ones, we need to investigate, attune and change our language, and how we describe non-human materials, and other worlds.
We often say the wind or spillage of ink or dispersion of clay dust, is chaotic, being out of control. However, this chaos is only out of our control, it is close to impossible for us to predict their pattern of behaviour, therefore we call them chaotic.
‘Wild’ can be suggested as a better description; as nature and natural materials out of our control have their own logic and pattern to their existence. They are alive, true to their properties and how they are, sentient, they do what they want, avoiding our control.
Therefore we have to try and work with the materials and things, study, control and contain them. Filter and direct dangerous clay dust; protect everything else from paint by restricting its movement in a container; control the flow of water through pipes, gutters, ditches and taps.

Reading from Ingold’s ‘The Material of life’ – Making and growing, we are introduced to a viewpoint that human intervention is just one kind of engagement, and only through engagement, matter could be changed.
We are extending the idea, from last week, of matter or things having their own life and ways of existing and changing, growing. The other-than-human engagement is also changing things around, such as the elements and their erosion, gravity, and other living plants and animals.
Ingold is giving us an example of an artist chiseling out a sculpture into marble, with form developed internally within herself. When that is achieved, he or she finishes, the growth and form is finished, the form is final; as hylomorphism states we impose our inner ideas of forms onto the outer world of materials, the internal form creates the work.
In opposite argument, Ingold is trying to get our attention to the essence of making, and that “is the engagement with materials… how things are made.” (Ingold, 2013, p 22).
The statute continues to change and growth even when the original ‘creator’ is dead, and her/his engagement is completed; water and wind slowly continues to engage with the marble, eroding it. Dust and chemicals react with its surface, it continues to change and grow through other types of engagement.

Thinking about my own practice and the webs of engagement and the meshwork of relations  I’m working with; when throwing, I don’t truly make the vessel by myself and my internal ideals. Rather I help it to grow, with careful relationships with the clay, water, wheel and its centrifugal forces, the atmosphere and gravity. Without all the other entangled aspects of engagement, I would never be able to produce a vessel.

In Tim Ingold’s Working paper on “Bringing things to Life” we re-attune our language again, on our world which we inhabit and which is composed of objects. He is arguing that objects are ‘Fait accompli’, very much final and separate from the other objects surrounding it.
However, as we are aware, everything is entwined within a meshwork of relations and engagements. Calling everything an object would not be the right term. Ingold is suggesting ‘thing’ as a better description, expressing the active and live nature of everything around us, things being just “a place where several goings on become entwined.”.
A rock can only be an object if it’s completely removed from its environment, a network that allowed its erosion and form, which continues to change.

Hodder is expanding the nature of things and their entanglement, with ‘webs of dependancy’ and how we humans are entangled and trapped by other things, so that they stay how we want them to stay.
These webs or networks could be categories as TH – Things depending on humans to be things (Rock walls depend on us to be maintained and remain walls despite the gravity, elements or plants eroding it.); TT – Things depending upon other things (A wall needs materials to be a wall, such as bricks, rocks, cement mixed with water, stable ground to stand on); HT – Humans depend upon things (To live comfortably as humans, walls protecting them, marking land from other users, preventing food providing animals to escape).
Hodder brings our attention to the ephemeral nature of things, and how their temporalities are trapping us, through waiting for clay to dry or concrete to set, or us fixing and maintaining things creating culture, systems and regulations.

In my own practice I’m now more aware how I’m entangled in processes, other things and their temporalities; for example to just keep the clay in a state useful to me, and the waiting time, allowing the clay to soak up water, or dry evenly.
Its only because of all the living, active things we live amongst and me collaborating, engaging with them and their processes, I’m able to produce anything.

However, after my direct engagement is finished, the object I created is actually still a thing, dependant on other things and humans to keep it the same, or entangled in the environment, changing and living amongst other things and forces constantly effecting its form.

Ingold, T., 2010. Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials. Realities, Sociology, working paper no. 15. University of Manchester.

Ingold, T. (2013). Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. Routledge.

Hodder, I. (2011). Human-thing entanglement: towards an integrated archaeological perspective. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(1), pp.154-177.


Published by

Marek Liska

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