In June 2018 myself and Clare Stanhope another PhD researcher from Goldsmiths presnted and activated a space at the Urban Matters conference in Utrecht. Potatoes, masking tape, glue and clay were our ingredients.
The religion of new materialism; pedagogical matterings and suspensions of disbelief
The shortening of experience by habit and its reconstitution by reflection go neurotypically hand in hand with the greatest of fluidity. What falls out between habit and reflection, leaving a gap they work in concert to smooth over with the aid of language coming from the field of memory, is the coming alive of the field of experiential immediacy, in its emergent dance of attention. (Manning and Massumi: 2014, 17)
This proposal invites participants to encounter a rhyzomatic pause, to entangle with and question the materiality of religion. We explore the idea of the religious encounter in the broadest sense of the word, as a desire to pursue something with great devotion. Be it a philosophical endeavour, conceptual belief or physical understanding. In a world that is becoming more secular, the boundaries of community and boarders are at once shifting and becoming fluid whilst equally constrained and territorial. Boundaries are in flux both blurred and identifiable. As Massumi (2002) discusses ‘Things, perception, and thought are in a reciprocal movement into and out of each other and themselves’ (94).
The Latin root of the word religion is ‘religare’ which means to bind. This brings forth images of being bound to something, perhaps in a supportive guiding form, or bound as in restrictive or repressive sense. It can conjure thoughts of protection and oppression. It is a complex relationship which as humans we often try to grasp. We look towards something outside of our own physical bodies to grasp the very nature of our own existence. The grasp is both physical, when we ‘grasp hold’ of something, but also indicates loss when we ‘grasp at straws’. It is a word that is permeated with gaps, even the onomatopoeic sound it exudes leaves our body like the last expulsion of breath.
Drawing on this creative metaphor we ask participants to work through and bind with material provocations. The material encounters will support a questioning of the singular and individual within the binded community. How does the metaphorical grasp of any support and belief structure, aid our own becomings? We offer a moment to pause and reflect with and through material. A grasping of ideas and matter, both through handfuls of clay - being grasped at, and skins that in turn grasp us. As we all leave marks and traces of our bodily selves, these can trigger a collective thought of how new materialism with its focus on the agentic qualities of becoming with matter can aide understanding of the binded qualities of the flesh. This ‘knowledge about ourselves demands prosthesis, which tie meaning and bodies together (Morton Søby: 2005, 23).
The conference was an interesting event with multiple voices that at the start seemed to chime together in a cohesive hope of the research processes discussed overlapping and embedding a position and aset of ideas. However, as the days went on there developed a tension between approcahes and what had been cohesive became antagonistic. There were suddently opposing teams, the believers and the sceptics. What was particularly relevant was that those involved in religious research and the accompanying belief structures that impacted on people, groups and cultural identities became vocal about their disbelief concerning new materialist approcahes. Taking a skewed perception of what new materailsm was, comments were made that questioned 'what objects really did?' that as one professor commented ' I have never seen a chair move on its own or talk to me' and followed this by the question, 'Where is the proof?'.