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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.

Homer, Odyssey


this is soil. this is you and I

3

the book in your hands

5

a matter of scale

7

sun-dried clay

9

protraction of potters past

11

eat dirt

13

terroir

15

the air we breathe

17

bibliography

18


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. That’s the problem. We treat it like it is dead. (DIRT! The Movie, 2009)


this is soil. this is you and I

3

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

respect.

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

5

“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

still.

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

extraction,

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

p 2)

by the author, I was able to interact with a further

In her introduction of architecture and material

technique,

transportation

and

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

7

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.


sun-dried clay

9

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

geological,

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

biological,

constructions

he

social,

and

foregrounds

linguistic

patterns

of

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

unique metamorphoses.”

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

internal equilibrium.

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

11

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.


eat dirt

13

“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.


terroir

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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

17

“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

terrorism.

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”

The

twentieth

century

“ecologised”

war.

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

understanding.

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.


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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.


Soil: A colouring-in book  

A collection of reflections disguised as a colouring in book about soil and the way we think about it.

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