Free-wheeling through Nature: On the Perception of a Material

Meredith Miller | Thom Moran

This essay is part of Possible Mediums by Kelly Bair, Kristy Balliet, Adam Fure and Kyle Miller, published by Actar Publishers.

A good litmus test for one’s perception of a material is to add the word “pollution” after it:

“Air pollution” = Check. This is bad.

“Noise pollution” = Check. Sound pollution, maybe not, but noise that pollutes is definitely bad.

“Plastic pollution” = Check. This is invariably a bad thing

“Stone pollution” = Hmm…. uncheck? That’s not a thing, is it?

“Gold pollution” = What? Sounds like a band name. (Actually, gold pollution is a thing but the mercury and cyanide that result from gold mining are the culprits).

While entirely unscientific, this litmus test elicits a knee-jerk reaction to a given material in excess and reveals our assumptions about its relative cultural value. For many of us, it’s a no-brainer: we don’t (or shouldn’t) like plastic. But plastics are amazing! They have enabled humanity to enter outer space and made our mattresses more comfortable, among other things. It’s clear that plastic can do almost anything other materials can do. This capacity inspired Roland Barthes to write, “…this amazement is a pleasurable one, since the scope of the transformations gives man the measure of his power and since the very itinerary of plastic gives him the euphoria of prestigious free-wheeling through Nature.”[1]

Post Rock is an ongoing material research project by Meredith Miller and Thom Moran that has been supported by the AIA’s Upjohn Research Initiative.  In 2017, Post Rock received Honorable Mention in the ACSA Faculty Design Award category.
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[1] Barthes, Roland. “Plastic.” Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 2013.