Someone help me! I’ve been attacked! Materials are running wild and taking their revenge on us! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!! That pot of paint is about to pounce! Oh, it’s okay, I’ve found the lid for the paint pot. Danger averted. Calm is restored.
What on earth am I on about, you ask? As is the standard for Constellation, everything on earth is what we are on about. So let us start at the beginning. Classic, right?
Materials, are they simply things on a shelf to be used and abused by us, ready to be turned into a table, a painting a building; or are they much more than this? Is there a greater relationship between us and them, than we assume? Yup. Okay, that’s cleared up, let us move on. Only joking, let me expand on this. We, as humans are prison guards to materials. We capture them, send them to a processing plant, regiment them and put them into a cell, left there until we say they can be let out. But let out to be free? Not so much. We contain them, impose our control on them and keep them in safe little cages to make sure they suit our needs. All this is great, you say, but seriously, what the hell are you about! Materials, paint for instance, is packaged up for human consumption, and presented in safe, easily controlled parcels that we are in command of. We know it is in the paint tin, it will stay in the tin forever more. It won’t just run off, or disappear into the ether. It is where we want it. That is what we want, but what does the paint want? Take paint out of the tin and what does it want to do? Does it want to sit on a shelf, static in a perfect paint-tin shape, waiting to be used? No, let loose of its confines, it runs riot! Dribbling off the back of the shelf, oozing down the front, seeping into the wood, soaking into the carpet. A veritable menage-a-trois! Blimey! ‘Materials’ want to be free, they want to move in a way that we find chaotic. We hate chaos. We want paint to be paint, not running amok, doing what the hell it likes, so we contain it. We impose ourselves on it. We stifle the natural wildness.
Facebook Status: In A Relationship
I know what you’re thinking: Who cares, weirdo! Stop talking about paint having a menage-a-trois with carpet and wood! Literally, what are you talking about! Well let me tell you, dear reader, we’re keeping on this track; in fact, it’s going to get even weirder. I am currently in a relationship with wood. And paper. And paint. And plastic, and everything else I ‘use’ to make the designs I have in my tiny mind. Let me back that truck up a moment and ask a question: have you ever used a material and thought about how it communicates with you, how it tells you what it needs to be the best it can be? Stop asking stupid questions would you, I’m only reading a blog, not doing applying for job, you say. Then let me present you with an example: If you are a potter, how do you know when to add water to the wheel to keep your pot from breaking off? If you are bending a piece of wood by hand, how do you know when it is about to break? Experience you say? Yeah, definitely, that helps. Though surely there is something else, something more…earthy. It’s simple really. You’re in a relationship. Have been since you have touched that material, since you started to think about making something with it. Pick up a twig and it starts to tell you so many things: I’m light, a little dry, I’m a bit thin, I’m not as flexible as I used to be. Be careful with me. Materials are not just there to be used, they are there as dance partners in a tango of growth and experimentation. Both know the steps, but will only whisper it to each other once in hold. Treat other with care, listen to the music, and the results will be beautiful. A basket weaved from willow looks just as naturally formed as the logs that fill it, yet the branches that make up the basket were never meant to be held in that position. They have been manipulated into a new form. If I picked some willow, chucked my headphones in, ignoring the music of the dance, and just tried to make a basket then I would probably have lost an eye trying, with branches flicking me in the face, and snapping between my stubborn fingers. Why? Because I didn’t listen to the material. I tried to chain its wildness down with my conformity, rather than entering into a relationship with these things.
What’s his name? You know, Thingy?
So if we are in a relationship with these ‘things’, what happens when it breaks down, when we start fighting, getting old and grouchy? Do we give up on things and walk away, looking for a new, younger model, or do we stick with it, thinking of the good times, that weekend in Brighton, the kids. Well, if we stick with it, you know, for old times sake, we need to think of tidying things up!
A thing could be…ahuh…wait for it…anything. I’ll give you a moment whilst you pick yourself up off the floor after that comedy gold.
Say, for example, we had a relationship a while back with some fancy pants metal and then BAM, you got yourself some beautiful new metal gates. They’re shiny, work a treat, not a scuff on them and are straight as a die. We, as humans now have a thing, and that thing is great. Then five years pass. Ten. More. All of a sudden, those once youthful gates are now saggy rust-stained eyesores. What do we do with our thing? Do we leave it for that good looking bit of copper over there, and start anew? What would happen if we did? Who would look after it? Other things would look after it. The things would rally around the poor abandoned thing, and bring it back to its collective. Our once beautiful thing would grow old gracefully without that bastard! Our once beautiful Human-Thing relationship is no more. We leave our gates to become feral, to allow other, uncultured things to take care of it our absence. Wind pushes the gates against the pillars and bends them out of shape, rain gets behind the paint and turns the pristine surface into rust; the rust begins to crumble and fall on to the ground. Plants and vegetation begin to grow up and around the gates, tucking themselves into the newly formed cracks where rust has fallen away. Our thing is being eroded and claimed back by the never contained, never domesticated, elements of the Earth. Our gates are soon no longer recognisable as gates, the bones of a once beautiful structure are now acting as the backbone to a tree, a home for animals, a vehicle for light to show its natural glory. Yes that’s right, our fallen bits of rust have continued to degrade, breaking down into finer and finer pieces, eventually turning into our old friend, dust.
Woah, woah, woah. I can’t let this happen to my beautiful gates. We had such good times. How can I forget that night in Bangor where we had too much Pernod and…well…let us not go into details, this is a family blog after all. Sure my gates are not looking their best, but my gates, my thing, depends on me. A bit of cleaning here, a slight twist there and a lick of paint and they’re good as new. Order has been restored, my gates are once again a sight to be hold, gleaming in the midday sun. Things got a bit wild there, but because I know my thing depends on me to remain as the thing I like it to be, a gate, then I am committing to this relationship. If I forget to keep up the maintenance, forget that my thing depends on me, a human, to keep up its form as gates, then all hell breaks loose. My thing ceases to be the thing I want it to be and becomes another thing; possibly an even more beautiful thing, but what thing has made my thing this new thing? If that thing then gets with this new and improved thing, then will they have things? Am I a Thing? I think I may have over thinged this section!??!
It’s All About Me
As per last week, this lecture has been eye opening, (and nostril opening; you had to be there). All that was discussed – Human-Thing dependencies, relationships with materials, our containment of nature, is a dead branch alive or dead(?!) – were familiar to me as concepts, but I have never considered looking at these relationships from the point of view of the material. Is it actually rude to just call it a material, surely it should have a name. Frank, perhaps?
We were asked in the lecture if we have ever treated a material as that, just a material, with no consideration for how it needs to be treated to work to its optimum ability. Only I put my hand up. Come on people! Don’t lie to me! I know what Martyn was asking of us. When a seamstress uses a material in a sewing machine, you need to converse with the fabric to get the best out it, don’t just ram it through the machine, turning the air blue when it gets stuck. When a graphics student chooses to print out their work, that they fully consider which paper will give them best results; which will communicate with them that this paper needs to be treated this way to make their new logo really sing. Nope, only I put my hand up and said yeah, I’ve just used a material as a thing to be used, with no consequence for its feelings. I should have said, of course I feel the texture of the wood and know exactly where to cut it, to sand it, to shape it to get the best out of it; and I do. I do have these relationships with materials. I do think they communicate with us, tell us what is best, that It is not just experience or visual clues. Every single person in that room must have, at one time in their lives, simply pressed print on a printer, picked it up, and walked away, without thinking a jot about the paper…or the ink…or the parts in the machine…or…
I said it earlier, we’re in a dance with, (what we call) materials. It’s just sometimes, we’re listening to a different tune.
Things exist once we have made them hold in a form we desire, such as a house. The house can only continue to be a house if we maintain it, if we commit to the relationship of Thing looked after by Human. The house, or Thing, doesn’t care it is called a house, only humans care that it is a house as this is the form we want it to take. The thing just wants to have fun with other things and be free. Left unattended, these domesticated things, (materials), can break away from their chains and be free. A brick in a wall could easily be pushed out of its resting place if a tree decides grow in its place. Is this fallen brick still a part of the house or just a brick? If we, as humans pick it up, cut the tree out of the way and put it back, then it is part of the house. So does the placement of the brick make it part of the house? It does in the eyes of the human. For this brick to be part of a house, to exist in the form we humans want it to exist, we need that brick to stay where we put it, in a wall. This is it, the crux of the matter, humans want control and will maintain things to keep them under control, whereas things couldn’t give a damn. In a wall, on the floor, broken into bits. Its still a thing, to the Thing.