M AT E R I A L ASSEMBLAGES + AFFECTIVE ATMOSPHERES
JORDAN LANE KTH AUTUMN 2012
I would rather be tied to the soil as a serf ... than be king of all these dead and destroyed.
this is soil. this is you and I
the book in your hands
a matter of scale
protraction of potters past
the air we breathe
I think the problem is this: When you step on a person - they shout. They let you know they are upset. Soil does not. But in reality soil does scream. Erosion means the soil is hurt. It is bleeding. It is in pain. We do not understand this. Because we do not know its language. Soil is a living system. It is not dead. Thatâ€™s the problem. We treat it like it is dead. (DIRT! The Movie, 2009)
this is soil. this is you and I
This is a colouring in book.
This is soil.
It is a collection of reflections. Far from
Soil is not just the matrix of life in which
finished. Use it as a point of departure. Use it to
our plants grow, soil is our building structure,
start debates. Use it to entertain the kids at an
soil is the very sense of who we are. It is so very
airport waiting lounge. Use it to pass the time. I
important to realise that we are not separate
only ask that you might use it.
from it. We depend on soil to purify and heal the systems that sustain us. Yet our misunderstanding
This is a story book.
and misuse continues.
It is a non-linear story of a material so
common that rarely have we stood back and
We abuse soil because we regard it as a commodity
celebrated it as something beautiful. Perhaps even
belonging to us.
mysterious. Soil. When we see soil as a community to which we This is a picture book.
belong, we may begin to use it with love and
The images in this book hint at, but do
not focus on people. To do so might trick us into thinking we are somehow the focus of the systems that support us. This is you and I
the book in your hands
“like any building, the book you have in your hands
to act as a servant of form” (Lloyd Thomas, 2007,
“the materiality of this book has probably gone
right now is a material object. But as you read it
p 2), she insists on making the material matter.
unnoticed” (Lloyd Thomas, 2007, p 2)
you will be unlikely to think of it in this way” (Lloyd
By enabling this slight shift in focus towards the
Thomas, 2007, p 2)
material she hopes to identify a wide range of
This is true. Not only has the materiality of this
exciting and potentially important issues.
book gone unnoticed, it has cut, copied, edited and
I didn’t have a book in my hands. My hands were
transformed. From a bound collection of printed
empty. As I write these words my hands are empty
In the discussion of matter, she invites the reader to
papers to a matrix of black and white pixels stored
redirect their attention by considering the book in
virtually in a physical but invisible cloud.
their hands as a material object. When holding the I do not know its weight, cannot feel the texture
original book, this refocusing is instant. However,
Does the book retain its materiality when it is
of its pages, and the only smell I am aware of is
can it retain its effectiveness when you read the
scanned? Is the complex history of development,
the wafting earl grey tea sitting to my right. This
same words from a scanned, disputed likeness of
is not the image the author imagined, but does a
the original book?
exchange maintained? I would argue that the
change in materiality make the original intended
“like any building, this book is in fact the result of a
answer is yes. Although I did not interact with the
observation any less true?
vast network of practices” (Lloyd Thomas, 2007,
material “object hood” of the book as intended
by the author, I was able to interact with a further
In her introduction of architecture and material
materiality of its digital copy.
practice, Kate Lloyd Thomas first identifies the
This remains true. The network of practices that
historical notion of valuing form over matter within
resulted in this book have now been extended
architectural practice. Claiming “the privileging of
from the ideal, to the physical, transformed to the
form is deeply embedded into our (architects)
virtual to come to a physical point on a computer
working practices, material is rarely examined
screen. Fittingly, this is also the environment in
beyond its aesthetic or technological capacities
which most of architectural practice exists.
Katie Lloyd Thomas ed. ‘Introduction’, Material Matters: Architecture and Material Practice, London: Routledge, 2007.
a matter of scale
Assemblages are ad hoc groupings of diverse
Assemblages are not governed by any central
elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts.
head: no one materiality or type of material has
Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations
sufficient competence to determine consistently
that are able to function despite the persistent
the trajectory of the group. (Bennett, 2010, p.24)
presence of energies that confound them from within. (Bennett, 2010, p.23)
If there is no centralised control over an agency, the interesting part is understanding the actors
Everything is an assemblage, and all assemblages
within, and how these materials of multiple origins
are part of larger ones.
interact with each other within and outwards.
Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I can tell
In “the agency of assemblages” Jane Bennett
assemblages and the way in which we describe,
offers an analysis of the electrical grid as an
define and contain them are a matter of scale.
agentic assemblage through an account of the
Ultimately, all things are “modes” of a common
North American blackout.
substance - an assemblage, which can be then divided almost infinitely into smaller and smaller
To be honest, I have not given much thought to
assemblages, or enlarged to create almost
blackouts. Lights go off…then they come back on.
infinitely larger ones.
However the electrical grid and the undesirable event of the blackout provide an arena for further
Where do you draw the line in the sand, what do
investigation and consideration of all materials
you include on your side of the line and how long
(both human and nonhuman) that are actants; the
is that line of yours?
roles they play, the effects they cause, and how their interplay finally effects the assemblage.
Jane Bennett, ‘The Agency of Assemblages’, in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010.
DeLanda races through A Thousand Years of
bricks of sun-dried clay became the building
a remarkably efficient new way of exploiting the
Nonlinear History at a breakneck pace. Traversing
materials for their homes, which in turn surrounded
soil.” (DeLanda, 2000, p.29) This great agricultural
and were surrounded by stone monuments and
intensification allowed a great increase in the “flow
defensive walls.” (DeLanda, 2000, p.27)
of matter-energy through society, as well as the
accumulation and reconstitution of matter.
transformations in the urban form that this intense DeLanda suggests this “urban exoskeleton” of sun-
flow makes possible.”
First, there were minerals. The mineral world
dried clay serves “a purpose similar to its internal
allowed the emergence of biological creatures,
counterpart: to control the movement of human
Almost one thousand years later we continue to
who - gelatinous and blobby at first - then
flesh in and out of a town’s walls”. However he is
exploit the soil. Although now we dig much deeper
reconfirmed their geological heritage through
cautious to avoid the error of comparing cities to
through the rich tapestry of top soil, deeper and
mineralisation - the forming of primitive bone. This
organisms, especially when the metaphor implies
deeper into the arteries of fossil fuels. We search
“calcified central rod that would later become the
that they exist in a state of internal equilibrium,
for more intense matter-energy flows to channel
vertebral column, made new forms of movement
as “urban centres and living creatures must be
through society. Our exoskeleton continues to
possible” (Delanda, 2000, p.26). These “new
seen as different dynamical systems operating far
grow, with the built environment the final resting
forms of movement” allowed the animal phylum
from equilibrium, that is, traversed by more or less
place for a large amount of matter-energy flow. As
to conquer every niche of the earth.
intense flows of matter-energy that provoke their
we search for “new forms of movement” we must
realise that exponential growth is an unhealthy
“The human endoskeleton was one of the many
goal in any system no matter how near or far from
products of that ancient mineralisation. Yet that is
How did these flows of matter-energy provoke
not the only geological infiltration that the human
metamorphosis and what were the causes? In
species has undergone. About eight thousand
the case of the European exoskeleton, which
We owe it to the minerals that allowed us the gift of
years ago, human populations began mineralising
formed around the eleventh century, “a series of
movement, to one day, move in the right direction.
again when they developed an urban exoskeleton:
innovations occurred which consolidated to form
Manuel DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, New York: Swerve, 2000. Excerpt.
protraction of potters past
Life is the protraction of the past into the present,
to it, we give values to it, we contract it into what is
the suffusing of matter with memory, which is
useful for future action. We make matter function
the capacity to contract matter into what is useful
differently in the future.
for future action and to make matter function differently in the future than in the past. (Grosz, 2010, p.153) The potter; protractor of soil and clay; suffuses earthen matter with memory; attaches meanings; grants worthiness; contracts it into what is useful for future action. The potter, makes soil function differently in the future than in the past. Pottery is by its very nature anti-determinist “the performance of an act that could have been done otherwise, even under the same exact conditions.” (Grosz, 2010, p.144) The processes of gathering, forming, shaping and firing matter grant a freedom to create indeterminate results of form, colour and pattern. We are protractions of past soil into the present. We suffuse matter with memory, we attach meanings
Elizabeth Grosz, ‘Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom’, in Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, eds, New Materialisms: Ontology,Agency, and Politics, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010.
“The transition from childhood to adulthood is one
If infants are indeed creating a personal aggregation
in which we partially learn how to bring the display
of labelled experiences, can we suppose that if
of emotion under conscious control.”
affects are materials, then feelings and emotions are form?
Oh sweet naive, ignorant childhood! Where have you gone? Are the days of making mud-pies, eating worms and playing in the dirt a blissful, unattainable, undoable relic of prepersonal joy? “An infant has no language skills with which to cognitively process sensations, nor a history of previous experiences from which to draw in assessing the continuous flow of sensations coursing through his or her body. Therefore, the infant has to rely upon intensities.” I suppose that is why infants put a lot of things into their mouth - the most sensitive and receptive organ. Although at times not the best method of exploration, they are actively accumulating affects, learning from experiences of intensity and the moment of unformed potential.
Eric Shouse, ‘Feeling, Emotion, Affect’, in Melissa Gregg, ed. ‘Affect.’ M/C Journal 8.6 (2005). 25 Nov. 2011.
Throughout the ‘dankness’ of his text, Gissen
tasteful wine can call upon its terroir to demand
explores the reconceptualisation of the dankness
a higher price, taste, worth and popularity, should
of architecture, by questioning how it may
not an architecture that considers the soil, and
still haunt space and impact new pleasures in
is shown to grow from the land receive a similar
contemporary concepts of dwelling and home.
esteem as well?
Resisting the historically pejorative concept of ‘dankness’ he shows the underground as an
However, architecture possesses on secret
embraceable zone of expression that actually
deceptive side, that is unlike wine it has an ability
contains qualities relative to specific local materials
to feign its terroir. While wine - and any organic
or regions - an endemic architecture or a terroir.
non-modified product must capture the history of its terroir - the soil, the story of the farmer
Loosely translatable as ‘a sense of place’ terroir is
who produced it and ultimately the quality of the
the sum of the effects created by the geography,
product - architecture can be conceived far from
geology and climate of a certain place. Most
the land, disconnected from place as pixels on a
commonly used in the description of wine, terroir
screen, with little thought being given to the soil
is a geographical identity comprised of human
upon which it stands or the earth worms that
and natural factors.
crawl beneath it.
As architecture and the environment are produced
If a good wine can be the celebration of a certain
simultaneously, I would like to suggest that by
place, why can’t architecture create the same
employing the concept of terroir, an endemic
esteem in marriage with its terroir?
architecture can be said to embody and represent a sum of the location. Just as a well balanced
David Gissen, ‘Part One: Atmosphere’, in Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.
the air we breathe
“the discovery of the ‘environment’ took place
is in fact the transition from classical warfare to
in the trenches of World War I. Soldiers on both
sides had rendered themselves inaccessible to
“terror operates on a level beyond the naive
the bullets and explosives intended for them that
exchange of armed blows between regular troops;
the problem of atmospheric war could not but
it involves replacing these classical forms of battle
become pressing.” (Sloterdijk. 2009, p.18)
with assaults on the environmental conditions of the enemy’s life”
Subterranean defence encouraged atmospheric
Despite the saturation of terrorism in media, the
offense which for the first time instead of aiming at
world is at large a peaceful environment - between
soldiers and their emplacements, targeted the air
humans. Reluctant however to dismiss knowledge,
surrounding the enemy body, blurring the notion
we have normalised “atmosterrorism” on the
of a ‘hit’. During times of war, soldiers were of an
global agricultural stage; crop dusting, insecticides,
opposing nation, spoke another language and
monoculture farming, all with an acknowledgment
dressed in a different uniform. In times of peace,
of environment and atmosphere but short of an
‘soldiers’ moved on multiple pairs of legs, and
flew unassisted through the skies under guises of moths, rats and lice. This “chemical war” - an attack on the enemy’s primary, ecologically dependent vital functions; respiration, central nervous regulations, and sustainable temperature and radiation conditions,
Peter Sloterdijk, ‘Gas Warfare–or: The Atmoterrorist Model, in Terror From the Air, LA: Semiotext(e), 2009.
bibliography Rosow, G (Producer), Benenson, B (Director). (2009) DIRT! The Movie [Motion picture] United States: Common Ground Media Crosby, A. . Ecological imperialism. (2nd ed.). Austin: Cambridge University Press. 2009 Molloy, L. Soils in the New Zealand landscape : the living mantle. Wellington: Rendel etc, 1988.
Katie Lloyd Thomas ed. ‘Introduction’, Material Matters: Architecture and Material Practice, London: Routledge, 2007. Jane Bennett, ‘The Agency of Assemblages’, in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010. Manuel DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, New York: Swerve, 2000. Excerpt. Elizabeth Grosz, ‘Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom’, in Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, eds, New Materialisms: Ontology,Agency, and Politics, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010. Eric Shouse, ‘Feeling, Emotion, Affect’, in Melissa Gregg, ed. ‘Affect.’ M/C Journal 8.6 (2005). 25 Nov. 2011. David Gissen, ‘Part One: Atmosphere’, in Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.
A collection of reflections disguised as a colouring in book about soil and the way we think about it.