06W: Materialising

Beginning in week 6, you will begin to tease out ideas from your research to pursue as group Media Arts projects. We will work towards nominating a number of research areas and concepts to develop. This week we  We will begin by teasing out ideas from your research.


How do we talk about a work? And how do we talk about a work in material terms?

In the second assignment, Media Artworks analysis, you are asked to:

  • choose one work that you feel strongly about
  • research the artist, his/her intention in creating the work, the central ideas he/ she is conveying in the work
  • critically analyse the work in terms of its craft
  • describe the physical presentation of the work in details
  • assess how well the artist achieves his/ her ideas or intention through the work’s material manifestation.
  • speculate on the reasons the artist may have made certain decisions (for example, the exhibition space, technical details in the install, the choice of materials used and so on).

The intention of this analysis to ‘reverse-engineer’ a work, to understand how ideas are transformed into physical, material forms through experimentation, production, presentation and/or exhibition.

How do we do that?

Paul Carter writes:

Materials are actively forming and informing, patterning and re-patterning themselves and their surroundings… their activity can reasonably be described as discursive. To say this means, thought re-materialisng discourse. When this occurs something else emerges. The image/ text, or non-discursive/ discursive opposition tends to melt away, and a third, material discourse emerges. (180)

So we may analyse and critique in words:

  • Analysis and critique are two key steps in creative practice education (critique sessions are the mainstay of disciplines such as art, design, architecture, and filmmaking).
  • This trains practitioners to speak the language of Carter’s “third, material discourse”.
  • Practitioners need to be informed about all the contexts  that may influence their works from economic pressure of the marketplace, the political situation of funding, sourcing materials, to modifying or inventing new methods/ processes .
  • Creative works cannot be separated from the material cultures within which they emerge from.
  • Practitioners/ makers need to understand how materials play a part in realising their ideas.
  • By materials, I don’t mean just physical material; digital media has its own materiality as we saw in the Out of Hand exhibition and explored elsewhere.
Annie Leibovitz's photograph of Kirsten Dunst used for the film Marie Antoinette's publicity.

Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of Kirsten Dunst used for the film Marie Antoinette’s publicity.

Remember how Paul Jones (guest lecturer in week 4) talked about his own creative process. He related how he was intrigued by the stark appearance of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs on Vanity Fair. He researched Leibovitz’s technique by ‘descontructing’ or reverse-engeinner her photographs: working out the position of the light source(s), the exposures used, the depth of these images and so on. He then experimented materially (using lights and cameras) to achieve the similar results, from which he was able develop his own unique style. 

It's Here UOW Grads Exhibition


Analysis: Out of Hand: materialising the digital

Start with analysis of the work/ objects you have chosen from this exhibition, pair up with someone who has chosen the same work.

‘Reverse engineer’ or work backwards to find out:

  • how was the work made?
  • What materials was used?
  • What kinds of processes were used?
  • Was there much experimentation involved? What purpose did these experimentation serve?
  • What decisions were made?

Now here is the hard questions:

  • Why were these decision made?
  • Why these materials?
  • Why these processes?
  • How did these ‘serve’ the ideas explored?
  • And what are these ideas explored?

Present to class: what ideas were explored and how these were investigated through the use of materials and processes?

From ideas to making

This is a short feature on Limor Fried (aka Ladyada), founder of Adafruit Industries. Identify the ideas she talks about in terms of making.

Michel Gondry is a innovative and extremely creative maker. He has made many well-known music videos (e.g. for the Chemical Brothers and the White Stripes). He is probably best known for his animation works. Animation is an old technique that is continuously being transformed through ideas and new technologies. Gondry is excellent at problem-solving using this form of expression. Have a look at the following video where Gondry talks about his work Is the Man who is Tall Happy? based on his interview with Noam Chomsky. Write down the different ideas he is exploring, at the same time, write down what animation techniques he is using to explore these ideas.

Brain-maelstrom or MVP with Mat

Consider doing this exercise across classes. It’s actually a course wide brain-storm. Our group projects will emerge from this jam.

Let’s slide into some entrepreneurial practice. One of the very useful concepts that has been formalised following the boom in entrepreneurial activity is the minimal viable product (MVP).

I think this is actually a technique stolen from creative practitioners – so lets steal it back. I think that the single most valuable strategy for creatives is to make something, not to write about, not to critique it, not to think about making it, but just make. To start doing that as soon as possible identify what the smallest possible iteration of a project in your field/ technology/ object might be and start making.

This is how you start the ‘discourse’ that Paul Carter is talking about …. a discourse is just a dialogue – and the dialogue begins with you listening to the materials you are working with. For that you actually have to be working with them.

AirBNB MVP was air beds during a tech conference on the floor of the founders apartments. From there a dialogue began that suggested a range of development they otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.

  1. Use the white board/ butchers sheets in a ‘cloud’ write your general area of interest. It might be ‘augmented reality’ but hopefully it will have more specificity – ‘augmented reality as a means to connect’ – ‘projecting map as an interface’…..
  2. Pair up with the person next to you. Tell them about your idea/ object/ technology and together come up with two ‘MVP’s’ – lets rename them Minimal Viable Projects. A Minimal Viable Project should be something you can execute in a couple of hours. It should be do-able with what we have on hand (which is a lot) or can get without waiting six weeks. It should resemble a project complete in itself – not a technical experiment but a NON-TRIVIAL exploration of the materials with which it is concerned.
  3. Take three minutes to do this for one project in discussion with your partner then move on to the next project.
  4. After three minutes move to another new project with a new partner. Spend the next three minutes discussing, refining or adding to one of the existing MVP’s. What works? What doesn’t? If you decide an idea is not doable you can strike it out. Add an element or an idea or improve an existing idea.
  5. With the next bell – come up with, discus, and add another MVP that can be used to explore the theme in question.


Which ideas stuck out? Which were the most interesting? Were there ideas that you thought you’d like to work on?

List the top three ideas you encountered as you moved around the room other than your own. Why did they appeal to you?

Can we isolate key and common ideas or themes across projects? Are there themes emerging across the group?

Plan for week 7.


Complete Assessment 1 for submission (tonight: 1 minute before midnight). Write up a brief project proposal in relation to all the ideas discussed in class. Include a brief analysis of the work you will re-create in week 7.

Research and analyse the work you have chosen to re-create in week 7 including materials and equipment you will need.

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