Tuesday, 25 February 2014

2014 - GEOcritically

Sawtooth Thinker-in-Residence discussions in 2014 will start around the term 'geo-critical' which, as GEOcritical, is the theme for the 2014 Art Association of Australia and New Zealand (AAANZ) annual conference, to be held this year right here in Launceston, Tasmania. First time in the regions and we're IT! The conference will be based around Inveresk, but Sawtooth is playing a part. More later.

While the conference will dump a whole lot of thinking beings into our midst around 5-8 December, the Thinker program (with a coordinating Thinker and hopefully a swag of guest Thinkers) will try to get a head start, be ahead of the game, etc etc. So we're thinking GEOcritical. This does not mean we will abandon NewMat -- indeed, one does in no way preclude the other, although either can help define that other.

The Thinker will add some GEOcritical considerations to the blog in the next little while, but in the meantime, would like to convey a recent NewMat moment from the waiting room at one of Launceston's 'imaging' (read x-ray) centres. Sturdy bloke aged 40s/ early 50s waits for x-ray. He's wearing shorts and a dark chocolate-brown T-shirt which has a panoramic image across the chest, more brown tones, a silhouette of two hikers looking towards a golden sunset, out over a vista of apparently endless wilderness. The slogan (there had to be one), in cream text beneath the image: The best things in life aren't things.  NewMat meets GEOcritical ...

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Not thinking of Hendrix, but rather JD Salinger, and specifically Janet Malcolm's terrific essay on Salinger's (somewhat maligned) group of works on the truly American-weird Glass family. You'll find the essay in the New York Review of Books, 21 June 2001, available on line at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2001/jun/21/justice-jd-salinger/?page=2

Just an extract here, though, to show just one object that plays its material role in Salinger's stories:

The smoking in Salinger is well worth tracking. There is nothing idle or random about the cigarettes and cigars that appear in his stories, or with the characters’ dealings with them. In “Raise High the Roof-Beam, Carpenters,” Salinger achieves a brilliant effect with the lighting of a cigar that has been held unlit by a small old deaf-mute man during the first ninety pages of the story; and in “Zooey” another cigar is instrumental in the dawning of a recognition. The cigarettes that the mother and son smoke in the bathroom play less noticeable but no less noteworthy roles in the progress of the story.
Like the food in “Franny,” the cigarettes in “Zooey” enact a kind of parallel plot. Cigarettes offer the writer (or used to offer) a great range of metaphoric possibilities. They have lives and deaths. They glow and they turn to ashes. They need attention. They create smoke. They make a mess. As we listen to Bessie Glass and Zooey talk, we follow the fortunes of their cigarettes. Some of them go out for lack of attention. Others threaten to burn the smoker’s fingers. Our sense of the mother and son’s aliveness, and of the life-and-death character of their discussion, is heightened by the perpetual presence of these inanimate yet animatable objects.

I like the alternative, 'inanimate yet animatable', as a point at which the material gains some control. But Malcolm leaves open who or what animates the cigarette or cigar: what responsibility must the human take here, and how can it be done without Malcolm falling towards anthropomorphism (which I don't think she means to do here)? (You will find the quote on p.2 of the NYRB essay).

This essay can also be found in a recent edited edition of Malcolm's writing put together by Helen Garner, Forty one false starts, published this year If you ever wanted to get inside the heads of some of the New York School artists, critics and dealers from the 1950s to the present, these essays are a great read.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Discovered while soaking newspapers to use to kill off a patch of lawn, a short review of an exhibition of work by Sarah crowEST, Tumbleweed Methodology, at Craft (Flinders Lane, Melbourne), finishing 30 November for anyone who may be in the big smoke to the north. It reads in part:

Materiality is a key motif among Sarah crowEST's latest body of work, which rambles its way throughout one of Craft's three exhibition spaces. Her paintings and various forms don't so much utilise Belgian linen as a surface on which to paint, but a material through which to play and experiment... (The Age, 9 November 2013, Life&Style 5)

A collection of 'material' reviews could now seriously impact the space in a filing cabinet. From barely a nod two years ago, the 'm word' is now the buzz word for art of any medium and across all media. Has it lost its meaning? Or does it just mean different things to different people? (I think that is where we started, sometime in May ...).

Sunday, 29 September 2013


Bron Fionnachd-Fein has brought to the Thinker's attention a video'd performance, Exit Strategy, by Kanarinka (Catherine d'Ignazio, of the 'Fluxus-inspired', Boston-based group iKatun. She suggests very plausibly that it appears to be a performance of George Brecht's 1961 score, Word Event . Exit .

You can view the performance at: http://www.ikatun.org/kanarinka/exit-strategy/

Links between this and some of the sources mentioned in the previous post should be immediately apparent -- particularly when you see the location of the performance.


The recent NewMat2 conversation threw up a number of new sources for contemplation and further discussion. It was really useful to have a general direction for the group in place and the engagement with the Enucleo exhibition, at Sawtooth ARI all September, and the wider consideration of materialising spaces (particularly galleries or exhibition sites) brought up some interesting observations on object-architectures, large and small.

Word of the day was 'entanglent': no, we didn't plan this, but it happened anyway. Ideas of webs, relationals, rhizomes all got a nod in their immediate application to material/non-material - yes - entanglements, in fact the idea of materialising practical action. But then someone had to mention hermeneutics. This was an act of innocence but - for those who were not convinced of the possibility of hermeneutics inherent fluidity - the source documents are:

Hans-Georg Gadamer, 1981, 'Hermeneutics as practical philosophy', Reason in the age of science, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA
Although Gadamer's hermeneutics was considered a 'domesticated' version of what could be perceived as the less fluid version set out by Heidegger, it is worth reading, particularly to get a bit of a screen grab against which to set the following:
Alexander R Galloway, 2012,  'What is a hermeneutic light?' in  Leper creativity: Cyclonopedia symposium, eds E Keller, N Masciandaro & E Thacker, Punctum Books, Brooklyn NY

More directly related to the spatial practices under discussion was:
Elizabeth Grosz 2005, 'The thing', Travels: feminism, nature, power, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
For those with UTAS accounts, this book is downloadable/readable as an e-book through the library. The print allowance probably just covers printing
the chapter and the notes (pp. 232-34 are the relevant ones)
One that did not come up in discussion but which comes highly recommended is:
Bernhard Siegert, 2012, 'Doors: on the materiality of the symbolic', Grey Room 47, Spring, 6-23
Again, anyone with access to e-journals through UTAS or similar institution can download a copy.
The Siegert paper brought to mind Bruno Latour's terrific consideration of the 'door-closer' which occasionally turned up on reading lists prepared by the Thinker when she was in charge of clutches of undergrads:
Bruno Latour (Jim Johnson) 1988, 'Mixing humans with non-humans: the sociology of a door-closer', Social problems 35:3, 298-310
This is available for free download at: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/35-MIXING-H-ET-NH-GBpdf_0.pdf
Recent re-reading of this Latour-de-force (sorry ... a pun waiting to happen) has confirmed it is just right for the NM investigation of the dynamics of space.

Not totally unrelated to the Bruno Latour piece (and you will need to read Latour's footnote 1 to start to get the gist of this relationship) is a TED lecture by JJ Abrams, 'The mystery box'. This may be viewed at:http://www.ted.com/talks/j_j_abrams_mystery_box.html
Any similarities to the dynamics of  jars on hills in Tennessee are intentional.

Finally, it seems that imagining is starting to push forward as an important aspect of NM thinking, particularly if is to be a 'practical philosophy'. My initial source for thinking what imagining might be was:
Edward S Casey, 1976 Imagining: a phenomenological study, Indiana University Press, Bloomington
Written when Casey seems to have been even-more-than-usually morose, it's a bit of a slog (although worth it, providing you place the whole thing prior to the technological revolution of the 1980s and beyond).
For a little more clarity and easily searchable, have a look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry: http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=imagination
As usual SEP has a good list of entries pertaining to the topic - but best to look at Tamar Gendler's long entry on 'Imagination' then digress to other entries looking at Kant, Hume and various inter-cultural aspects of the topic.

It is envisaged by the Thinker that aspects of Abrams' lecture, in tandem with the Siegert/Latour papers, will provide plenty of fodder for the NewMat group's next outing - particularly if loaded with a certain amount of imagining.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

NEWMAT BIB (continuing)

Just so as you don't think the Thinker has ceased her trade since departing gainful employment, a few more things to add to the New Materialism reading list, particularly for those engaged in next Saturday's discussion -- but open to all for comment and review, of course!

Paul Rekret (2012) 'Two routes from the 'Correlate': New materialisms and politics', presented at Matter, life, resistance: an international conference in political theory, University of Kent: available for download at www.academia.edu/3890059/Two_Routes_from_the_Correlate_The_Politics_of_New_Materialism

James L Smith (2012) 'New Bachelards? Reveries, elements and twenty-first century materialism', Other Modernities 16 October 2012, 156-167; offers an interesting proposition regarding 'old and new materialisms' and a re-evaluation of Bachelard for the 21st century, particularly in relation to Jane Bennett. One for those interested in a contemporary poetics (and that possibility). Available for download at: riviste.unimi.it/index.php/AMonline/article/view/2418

And finally, issue 2 of the new(ish) journal, Scapegoat, was on the theme of 'Materialism' and contains a number of projects and critiques arising out of architecture. Although discourse-specific (which is, in itself, of interest) the 'Editorial Note' begins with the following statement, referencing the journal Collapse, recommended to us on an earlier post from Erin Stickler but also Coole and Frost's New Materialisms (also flagged in an earlier post):

      In our estimation [architecture and landscape architecture] are haunted by materialism. We see its specular presence invoked in design research's emphasis on large-scale flows and sites of material production, in the renewed focus on 'performance' and the rehabilitation of functionalism, in the centrality of 'material' as an expressive layer of techtonics, and through the import of non-human actors into discussions about spatial design. Each of the above invokes matter as its base.

You can read and /or download the entire issue (and others) at: www.scapegoatjournal.org

Meanwhile, back in the land of Cyclonopedia ...