Processes of artefact creation in hybrid-reality: Engaging with materials through Material Oxymorons

Research paper written with Laura Ferrarello for Experiential Knowledge Special Interest Group (EKSIG) 2015.

artefact, process, oxymoron, material, hybrid, engagement.


Yet the nature of all these things must of course be physical since otherwise they could not impress our senses for impression means touch, and touch means the touch of bodies. - Lucrezio, "De Rerum Natura".

The materiality of things represents the connection between our bodies and the physical world. However, in recent years, with the overlay of a new digital reality onto the existing physical one, materiality has extended its domain of existence into the virtual world through haptic technologies. The sense of touch is no longer restricted to a physical contact with any kind of "thing" existing in our world, but accessed through perception of it. By means of neurocognitive processes, which reproduce the sense of touch by stimulating particular areas of our brain, touch lost its direct and instinctive connection with the physical world to rely more on mnemonic processes of virtual perception that construct hybrid knowledge based on digital rather than physical stimula. This paper investigates what the human relationship with things is in the age of human sense simulation. Also, what kind of sensuous relationship is established with our surroundings when the main territory of material investigation has shifted to the virtual, understood as "real"?

This paper will attend to human-object/thing relationships via the concept of the "material oxymoron". An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory. The "material oxymoron" finds its hybrid materiality by means of the human’s perception of, and engagement, with things. By embracing the hybrid context (between the digital and the physical) in which we dwell, we would like to define a new kind of relationship between humans and objects/things using Malafouris' theory of “material engagement”. We will articulate the process through which material oxymorons are constructed, and consider the role of material engagement theory in explaining it.

In the material oxymoron, the surface quality is no longer defined a priori in reference to information stored in the human brain, i.e. what we expect, but emerges from the process through which material oxymorons are created. We will therefore treat materials as mutable things, continually transformed by humans and material actants, rather than treating them as objects existing ad infinitum. By means of material oxymoron we aim to challenge a sensuous discovery of the physical whose outcome creates composite matter, i.e. a materiality that fosters human perception and engagement with the physical world.

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