What is it?
What is it?
Material systems, System of materials, Material categories, Categorical systems
Clemens Thornquist, 2017
It has been shown how materials, as forms of non-linguistic media can contribute to the constitution and substantiation of culture in general and cultural categories in particular.1 Similarly, from an archaeological and anthropological perspective, materials and material objects – clothing and buildings, for example – may be used as physical evidence of culture and cultural categories.2 In other words, cultural categories are central socio-psychological functions in the experiences of our everyday lives.3
In philosophical terms, categories have traditionally been associated to the highest kinds of entities, and where a system of categories – as an inventory of everything that is – is thought to answer the basic metaphysical questions: ‘What is?’4 However, following Kant5 and more recently-expressed scepticism regarding the possibility of discerning the categories of ‘reality itself’, categories have been approached not with the aim of cataloguing, but with reference to the conceptual categories that are a priori necessary for any possible cognition and categorisation – ontology – of matter and material objects. Husserl, for instance, as Thomasson6 notes, approaches categories in this manner, laying out categories of “meanings” which may then be used to draw out ontological categories, or categories relating to the possible meaning of objects.7
As a practical example, fashion – understood in the widest sense, as a material culture affecting clothing, interior, architecture etc. – is often understood as a system of categories because of its function of associating materials and objects with established cultural categories. However, fashion as a way of giving form to our everyday lives does not only work to associate materials and objects with existing cultural categories, it also produces new and alternative cultural categories8 that leads to new ways of living.
Acknowledging the propensities of materials themselves, their functional and expressive potential, What is it? aims to support the creation of new meanings which in the end may have the potential to change our ways of being. By supporting artists and designers – anyone really – in developing new categories or definitions through materials, this toolbox supplies basic means of exploring and developing alternative systems and new worlds.9 In enabling experiments with categorical materials and material categories through reweighting, reordering, adding to or removing, the toolbox makes it possible to remix and rethink established categories of being through material systems into new and unexpected ones with new ways and new directions. In other words, what is a particular system of materials? and, what could a change in a material system become?
1. de Saussure, F. 1966. Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill; Barthes, R. 1983. The Fashion System. New York: Hill and Wang.
2. Woodward, I. 2007. Understanding Material Culture. New York: Sage.
3. Wiley, S., Philogène, G. and Revenson, T. 2012. Social Categories in Everyday Experience. Washington: Magination Press.
4. Aristotle, Categories in Aristotle. 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle: volume one. New Jersey: Princeton Univ. Press; Aristotle, Metaphysics in Aristotle. 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle: volume two. New Jersey: Princeton Univ. Press.
5. Kant, I. 1958. Critique of Pure Reason. London: Macmillan.
6. Thomasson, A, Categories in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall 2013/entries/categories/>.
7. Husserl, E. 2012. Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. London: Routledge.
8. Baudrillard, J. 1983. Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e); Levi-Strauss, C. 1973. The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
9. Goodman, N. 1978. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis: Hackett.