Action, reaction and how to make a ceramic figure

October 17, 2012

[deformable-solid-broken figure]

The Jane Benett’s Preface in Vibrant Matters is an appeal to make the reader realize the vitality of matter and how “lively powers of material formations” can alter our moods and environments. But her goal is more ambitious; she defends that if we were more aware of an animate “vibrant matter” our modes of consumption and production would become “more ecological and more materially sustainable”.

I can remember the first time I thought about matter as an animate thing. It happened during a physics lesson in the school. The teacher started enumerating the different states of the matter; solid, liquid, gas. This was nothing new to me but then he went further on, introducing the term of atom and how it is directly related to the matter’s different states. Since that day when I try to understand the environment and its matter it comes to my mind an amount of millions of particles. And depending on the matter’s state they appear: quiet and joint but in tension for solids, partly moving or vibrating for liquids, and separated, flying free filling the atmosphere for gas.

“We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do” [Jane Benett, Preface]

But somehow even before the ‘atomic lesson’ I was aware of the vibrancy of matter when as a kid (and the high curiosity involved) I played with deformable materials, discovering different matter’s characteristics.

I used to model figures with a plastic and resistant material; clay. When I had the desired shape I put it in the oven and heated it until the clay became hard but fragile; the result was a ceramic figure. Eventually one day I threw away the figure and it broke; the result was an amount of small ceramic pieces spread on the floor. Every action upon the material produced a visible change on it so I could in some manner perceive animation in matter.

Because of the action-reaction principle everything is constantly changing and moving even though we don’t notice. There are changes that happen too fast or too slow for us to be aware of them. For a dragonfly that lives one day humans might never change. We don’t see a mountain decrease or rise because the process is too slow for our perception. The matter keeps changing and it is in movement.

-Anna B-

Jane Bennett, ‘Preface’ in ‘Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things’ – Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010.

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