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.


Forgetting and Remembering the Air – Constellation Week 1

We live in a more-than-human world (Abram, 1996)
‘The Importance of Dust: A source of Beauty and Essential to Life’ Wallace, A.R. (1898) 

How we are blinded by our human-full everyday world and fail to recognise the fullness of air, saturation of life.

Missing the first session due to 2 days Ceramic trip, I’m recapping through the presentation available on Moodle, and taking out Abram’s book ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’, as it’s such an essential and beautifully though ideas and provocations.

“We live in a more-than-human world (Abram, 1996); a world of animals, the Earth, the Atmosphere Plants and Insects. We, however, are perceptually attuned to our human world of technology, communication and culture. How can we better sense the more-than-human world that we always inhabit? How can re re-orientate our perception and language to include the more-than-human voices that surround us? How does this perceptual re-attunement change how we think, talk and write about our practices?”

The selected first reading from Abram’s book is prompting us to remember how full the invisible air that surrounds us all actually is.
Looking at the eye-catching screens, media and stimuli around us we automatically recognise the space between us and the visual input as empty space, without obstructions.
We see the empty space as the place occupied only by telecommunications/wifi visible through our gadgets, and even get annoyed if a wall that we also forgot about is making the signal weaker.

When our machines and industries produce gasses released into the empty space, we recognise them as disappearing into the empty space, that can’t be ever filled.
Abram is arguing that this viewpoint is distorted with our human-centric life.

As even the vacuum is not technically really empty, nothing can be, how can we accept that the air we live in, and breath in every second to oxygenate our bodies, is empty?

Vacuum fluctuations that are the bases for our existence are not the only things present in our empty space. With oxygen and other gasses, water moisture and dust; pollen, spores and microorganisms, the space surrounding us is actually very full.

Us releasing burning exhaustions and byproducts do effect the overall systems, and over time, in the present evermore increasingly evident, these will effect the human world to that extend that the air will become visible to us again.

In practical terms, what should these observations teach us relating to our practice? How can we design objects that are not predominantly human-centric, but encompassing the more-than-human worlds? Or when designing for humans, how can we think about, and incorporate all the aspects of ecosystems that create our world.

In our second reading by Hippocrates on ‘Breaths’ we go on exploration of the wind; as a third main element that nourishes bodies of humans and animals, alongside solid food and drink.
He describes wind, thus air or breath, as a powerful force, tearing trees’ roots and lifting the seas into waves; the force is “invisible to sight, though visible to reason” (Klingan, 2015, p. 32).
Yet again, we are presented with the air as being invisible, but it’s actually very full, from “between earth and heaven”.
Hippocrates is realising the importance of wind, as the cause for summer and winter, the movement of stars and moon, cause of fevers, it even enables the existence of water creatures, or fires, nevertheless our own existence.

Scientifically sound or not, the philosophical reflection on air is trying to attune our attention to the invisible more-than-human worlds. As it has such a profound impact on our existence, and the existence of many phenomenas visible to us, our actions, and thus our practice as artists or designer, can have an impact on this invisible world of breaths.

Through the third final reading we explore another feature of the air that surrounds us and the importance, of dust. Wallace is showing us that the small matters constantly present in our atmosphere is the cause to many natural beauties of the many colours of sky, or form of seasons. Our perception of world would change, with it our design of society, buildings or products.

As a maker, this points out how a seemingly small and unimportant aspects of our always-present surrounding is impacting our design of the world; and however small a presence in our environment can have a profound shaping power of our world.

Abram, D, (1996) The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in the More than Human World. London: Vintage
Hippocrates, ‘Breath’. In Klingan K. (2015) Textures of the Anthropocene: Vapor, Grain, Ray. Chicago, London: The MIT Press
Wallace, A.R. (1898) ‘The Importance of Dust: A source of Beauty and Essential to Life’. In Klingan K. (2015) Textures of the Anthropocene: Vapor, Grain, Ray. Chicago, London: The MIT Press