WHY MATTER MATTERS: Questions of Materiality in the Physical World

Ane Graff, Research Fellow at Oslo National Academy of Arts, Academy of fine Art

“Why matter matters…” will reflect upon matter through the new materialisms as presented in recent feminist science studies. Over the past years my art practice has moved between sculptures, textile works and painting, often brought together in large-scale installations – in an ongoing artistic investigation of materiality. I have explored the nature of matter, the science of materials and the processes of decay and change within organic matter through different angles and methods. “Why matter matters…” will extend this research and see it in the light of the new materialisms of feminist science studies. The project intends to generate new insights in between the field of visual arts and the natural sciences, and to contribute to more complex understandings of matter and our physical world.

Today a number of thinkers in philosophy, science and culture studies are looking at the materiality of the world with renewed Spinozian interest; as if a shift is taking place from constructivism towards realism. From the viewpoint of the new materialisms, matter has been given a less than satisfactory theoretical and rhetorical treatment the last centuries. Matter has been subdivided into manageable “bits” or flattened into a “blank slate” for human inscription. The new materialisms ensure that matter is accorded an active role. Within this realist framework, feminist science studies thinkers such as Karen Barad, Donna Haraway and Stacy Alaimo have developed new theories. What makes the feminist materialisms distinct from other theories in the field is the refusal to see the subject world divided into hierarchies and categories, the importance of maintaining a “we”, and the awareness of the constant transformations and interactions of matter. Feminist new materialism is currently reworking understandings of space, time, matter, causality, and objectivity.

The artistic research will occur through three one-year projects successively building upon each other. The first year’s project, “Matter”, builds upon my recent material practice and will reflect upon matter in its structural build, categorization and material nature through artistic media such as sculpture, textile work and painting. The second project, “Cooperation”, will examine intra-actions between humans and the environment, and investigate binaries such as human/nature, and human/animal. This examination will occur through immaterial practices such performance, sound work and written poetry and public readings. The last year’s project, “Quantum Entanglement”, will bring the two previous projects together and include both material and immaterial practices. Thematically, this project brings the previous projects together through a focus on intra-actions and relationships of matter on a subatomic level.

The chosen method for the artistic research draws its inspiration from the concept of diffraction. In the book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (2007), Karen Barad discusses the method of diffractively reading insights through one another in order to build new insights in a non-hierarchical manner. My aim is to read and research the new material theories of feminist science studies, scientific research and art through each other, to produce new patterns of thinking and being within my artistic practice.