Image source: Boston College Magazine
I apologise for the comparatively long pause. I have been thinking about some questions in regard to my project and was not sure if the intermediate results were formed enough to end up on this blog. But, as you can see, I have decided to go ahead anyway at bringing them into a bloggable format that may open a discussion.
I have recently been reading (or rather re-reading) Doreen Massey’s book ‘For Space’. I keep on coming back to her writings ever since a friend excitedly presented me with her book ‘Space, Place and Gender’ in 2002, and now I have accidentally ended up in the same department as her – so I hope this post will not cause me too much embarrassment… Anyway, the reason why I am interested in Doreen’s work is that she believes that ‘the way we imagine space has effects’, which is what the ‘Mutable Matter’ project is about. My view of space as inherently lively and mutable also draws me to Doreen’s writing which, for me, is full of images which help me think this mutability.
As mentioned previously, some geographers are concerned that the scales at which new technologies are operating (as in nanoscale, microscale) are portrayed as ‘virgin territory’ to be discovered, conquered and domesticated for human purposes. In some descriptions, these spaces appear passive and removed (‘down there’), sometimes downright uninteresting until humans do ‘cool stuff’ with it. Space is constantly in danger of being robbed of its meaningfulness by making it, in Doreen’s words, ‘the outside’, ‘the abstract’, ‘the meaningless’ in contrast to our ‘everyday world’.
Of course, a lot of people working with matter at the nano or micro scale disagree with this view of matter as dull and passive. They keep experiencing this space as a marvel (e.g. because of its complexity and difference from how things operate at our scale) and as something rather active. After all, this space is not some inert place or surface ‘down there’, but makes up everything we can perceive.
So what consequences can it possibly have how we imagine (a certain) space? For Doreen, it has political consequences. As I understand her, the spatial can not only be immobilised, but also mobilised (or rather, it is immobilised to become mobilised for a particular purpose). In the context of this project, if a fixed image of the space of the nanoscale is propagated, this is done to achieve particular results. ‘Thinking the spatial in a particular way can shake up the manner in which certain political questions are formulated’, she writes.
I was once asked at a workshop whether I wanted to apply what I have ‘found out’ the nanoscale to geographical space, because I talked about the quantum mechanics (that are operating at the nanoscale) in quite a bit of detail and showed quite a few related images. In ‘For Space’, Doreen writes that she sees a ‘problem to draw on science to conceptualise space’. But that is not my intention. I am rather trying to do it the other way round: drawing on ‘space’ to try to re-imagine how we think and mobilise the nanoscale.
A big thank you to all the people who took part in the pilot and talked to me about matter – and produced a series of amazing plasticine sculptures!
It was suggested to me that I also offer Fimo as an alternative for people who might want to turn their models into more permanent features, which I will look into. Of course this was not the only outcome of the pilot, but more in good time! ;)
In a few weeks, Mutable Matter will start its journey across the British Isles, finishing in late October 2008 in Milton Keynes. If you would like the project to come to a science festival, community centre, ecology fair, art gallery, adult education fair, education busking event etc. near you or would just like to have a chat about the project, please leave a comment or contact me through the contact page.
A few weeks ago, I talked to someone about Mutable Matter and my desire to make people experience what is happening at the ‘nanoscale’ in symbolic ways. His instant reaction was: ‘Velcro suits’. Indeed, Velcro suits would be a means of illustrating what fellow blogger Richard Jones would describe as the ‘stickiness’ problem, or that of matter having different properties at a molecular level. This leads to amusing headlines such as: ‘Scientists discover water is sticky at a small scale’ .
This changing of properties brought back memories of my course against fear of flying, where the pilots described how they experienced flying more as navigating their vessel through a thick liquid – which is how the air felt to them. Further comparisons were made with ‘upside down ships’ (how comforting!). There are actually a few computer games on the web where you can ‘shrink yourself’ to the nanoscale and experience the properties of matter there, for instance, the Science Museum’s Duckboy in Nanoland. Don’t worry, I try not too take too much inspiration from that for my own project – nobody will have to swim through treacle!