During this year in my studies, following My Life as a Spacecraft, I shifted my written focus onto the course entitled How Things Are: Embodiment, Matter, Ecology. Some of the works we examined and read include Aristotle’s hylomorphism and Tim Ingold’s book “Making [Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture]”. As supplementary reading material I also read the article “From Seduction to Fulfilment: The Use of Anthropomorphic Form in Design” by Carl Disalvo and Francine Gemperle to learn more about general affordances in design that could potentially aid our studies in matter and form.
Over the course of this topic I realised just how similar what I took in from it was to my life as a spacecraft in terms of the concepts it described, the use of embodiment and how both could closely blend in with my product studies and the way in which I can utilise what I learn in them. While I didn’t end up writing too much about embodiment itself save form its practical use in anthropomorphic design, I figured out quite early on that this study into matter and embodiment could link with my product design studies in general affordances – how things are designed to be used by humans, often taking on anthropomorphic qualities to appeal to our own set of personal and cultural expectations.
One of the things we learned about in a later session was “hylomorphic world view”, a form of thinking prevalent for most of recorded history, pioneered by the likes of Aristotle in ancient Greece. This view highlights human importance in matter and form, how man is at the forefront of creation. This didn’t sit right with me in this day and age, since I have no cultural or religious reasons to feel like humans are superior in any way to the rest of life itself.
The more I read into the subject of anthropomorphism, the more it seemed to flow from the same vein of Ingold’s animistic views (wherein all products are matter, grown rather than made) despite being almost polar opposites. Where anthropomorphism would see things designed for human use, animisticism would see that humans are only a small part of the chain of events that lead to the construction of products. And when I put the two together, I came to the realisation that these affordances didn’t apply to just people of different cultures and backgrounds, but could apply to animals, plants, forces in ways unexpected. I struggled for a while to find a way to link these ideas in written form, and I spent a lot of time going back and adapting my words in a way that clarifies my points. I think in the end the idea of man-made design became more of the antithesis of my essay, the villain of the story so to speak.
I wanted to explore what products meant to life other than human life. And in doing this I found my first major link. It was hidden in plain sight the entire time. When we create things for human use, they become an agent, an influential factor in the creation of something else later in time. As Ingold states, tools aid us in creation of items. But the same is true for the items themselves, they aid the world around us in infinite ways with each passing instant. Even though we think we use tools to create products, and use products to satisfy our needs, we are still contributing to a global time-lapse of creation and transformation of matter that started at the beginning of the universe and will end if it is ever no more. The system of creation expands in complexity and reach over and over and never stops. Nature’s application of the mathematical principle of chaos theory.
In chaos theory, the “butterfly effect” describes the phenomena that a single seemingly-inconsequential event could have world-altering effects on a much grander scale than imaginable. This is a trope of time-travel science fiction, where the hero would already know the outcome of events from personal experience, but something they did in the past would drastically alter the outcome of the future – leading them to their conflict, their tragic mistake that they need to fix in order save the day in the end. See: Back to the Future. In my context of breaking down hylomorphism and pushing my idea that world is working in unison it takes a slightly different and more profound meaning. It describes a world in which, as Ingold states and as previously mentioned, innumerable complex systems (forces, agents, tools, humans, animals) all contribute to the transformation of matter. This became my thesis, to explain my thoughts on animisticism and how creation is a worldwide collaborative effort.
The idea of bringing together everything I had learned into this essay title came about in one of the final study group sessions, where we were asked to present ideas for essays on sticky notes. I had written down about the studies and disciplines that I had learned over the weeks on a few different sticky notes and I hadn’t realised exactly how they could all come together at the time, save for the points previously mentioned. I showed my ideas to the tutor and he immediately made the connection between my points, and so I used these notes to come up with the thesis and antithesis of my title:
Matter, Creation and Product Use from an Animistic World View
This essay will focus primarily on the influence outside forces (agents) have on the creation (or growth) of a product, describe my thoughts on why nature and man-made design are not inherently different, but work in unison, and subsequently aim to explain my ideas that the world is an infinitely complex collaborative effort that sees us working with active materials in order to further the evolution of all matter in time.
In light of my written work in animistic views and natural collaborative creation, I am motivated to try and create a product in the future that factors in more outside influence from these agents than would contribute in a controlled environment. For example, I would like to try and create something outdoors on a windy day and examine how it influences the form, the matter of the resulting product. I think this could make for an interesting learning experience for me.