My main influence for my art practice goes back to Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, in particular the chapter Material Consciousness. Sennett states that we are interested in and become engaged with material when we see it change. When it is in the moment of change.
Sennett states material change happens in three distinct ways.
“…Metamorphosis, presence, and anthropomorphosis. Metamorphosis can be as direct as a change in procedure, as when potters switch from molding clay on a fixed platter to building it up on a rotating wheel; potters who do both will be conscious of the difference in technique. Presence can be registered simply by leaving a maker’s mark, such as a brickmaker’s stamp. Anthropomorphosis occurs when we impute human qualities to a raw material; supposedly primitive cultures imagine that spirits dwell in a tree, and so in a spear cut from its wood; sophisticates personalize materials when using words like modest or sympathetic to describe finishing details on a cabinet. “
Beyond the French scientific philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s definition of the material world being categorized as either soft or hard in Earth and the Reveries of Will, I believe the very notion of material is also going through a change as our virtual technologies continue to develop.
Virtual technologies rely on our memories of soft or hard physical materials in order for us to comprehend our increasingly virtualized experiences, but go well beyond those initial interactions based on touch. During moments of interaction within these immersive virtual worlds we are thinking differently due to the virtual qualities of these virtual materials. Due to which, as Nicholas G. Carr states in The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, there is a shift in our thinking because our world is different than the one we previously only knew. Our world is no longer strictly physical.
We coexist between both worlds now, almost seemingly and at a moment’s thought. I’m on my bus commute and I am running a campaign on a MMORPG at the same time. My back and shoulders are aching as I am creating massive and immersive 3D cityscapes. Virtual technologies allow our minds and our bodies to separate in very extreme ways, by simulating physical knowledge to the point of near indifference.
In my art practice, this concerns me. I am curious to know what is being lost in this transition from a purely physically constructed mind to that of virtually produced one. What do people think of traditional building materials today? Do people have the same knowledge of physical materials as they used to? To what extent do they know how the world used to work? My biggest concern is what type of people are we turning into due to this shift in the qualities of material and material knowledge.
In the past if we did not understand how something worked or more specifically if we could not comprehend how something wasn’t working, we created myths and mythological creatures to explain the incongruities. We conjured mythological creatures as manifestations of our own ignorance. They were scapegoats, things to point at and blame for our misinformed minds.
Are we creatures of destruction now? If we are growing more reliable on a virtualized reasoning of things and processes, are we the goblins of our once handcrafted world? By allowing for more virtualized experiences to be part of our lives, are we consequently also allowing for the deconstruction of our physical material knowledge?
In my ceramic-based art practice, I am attempting to show this loss of material knowledge as well as suggest that we are changing. My work attempts to capture a moment of my struggle to comprehend a change in material consciousness. They are often violent or somber moments of frustration and acquiescence. Some works have haunting and ominous presences. Some are mere wardens or barriers, structures suggesting that we have reached a limit in our physical comprehension. What gives me hope in my practice is the process, the labor behind the end product. The act of making keeps me engaged; it is a rebellious act against purely virtual reasoning and thinking. It allows for mistakes and irregularities to be part of the piece, which I value as being more human. I'm not striving for perfection, but instead, an honest record of my interaction with clay and glaze and charcoal and paper.