Friday, February 29, 2008

Of materials and bodies

If I had $500 that I didn't need to, say, pay rent or eat then I'd subscribe to Princeton Architectural Press' Materials Monthly. After reading Dan's positive review, I checked out the current issue (pdf) and longed to touch the sample materials with my own hands. As he says, "the ability to pick up, touch, rub and generally explore the tactility of materials is surprisingly affecting." See also: Transmaterial and Transmaterial 2

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I never regret my decision to stop practicing archaeology, but not a day goes by that I don't miss feeling what I do. Having an aching back from sitting at the desk too long is not the same as feeling a burn in my thighs from squatting in an excavation pit, or climbing up mountains. I no longer put unknown objects in my mouth and use my tongue to identify them. (Bone sticks, ceramic grits and stone is just really hard.) And it's been far too long since my hands have touched something that hasn't been touched in centuries, or traced grooves in an object made by hundreds of other fingers doing the same. When I touch certain stones I can still hear the sound of water running over them, and when I run my hands over old Peruvian textiles that I've collected, I can remember the scent of wet alpacas and the relative coarseness of llama wool. I recall how mineral and vegetable dyes feel different as a pestle grinds them against a mortar, and smell different when cooked.

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A couple of years ago I worked with a bunch of 13-14 year olds to come up with new mobile phone ideas. Granted we were limited to creating quick-and-dirty prototypes out of paper and textiles, but everyone was already interested in making phones softer and more flexible.

Now there's Nokia's Morph concept and Qian Jiang's Softphone concept. While not as cool as Schulze & Webb's metal phone, or as hardcore as this electronic tattoo display that runs on blood, there is something intensely beautiful--and maybe even more convincing--about this kind of design thinking. All soft computing and tangible interaction.

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Embodiment studies - because my interest in materials is never separate from my interest in bodily experience.

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