Gently prodded by our friends at Urbanscale, I thought that it might be good to record these thoughts before they float away. I’ve been thinking about the Matter Battle philosophy as a way to explain the difficulties of construction, particularly to audiences who are used to the fluid possibilities afforded to us by the digital. Another way to sum up what follows is a beautifully simple line from sevensixfive: “Don’t take any guff from stuff.”
One enters a Matter Battle when there is an attempt to execute the desires of the mind in any medium of physical matter. Any act of construction (such as building a building) is a good example of a Matter Battle. To lesser degrees, reaching for something on a high shelf, baking a pie, drawing a line, and other similar acts also qualify as Matter Battles.
Scene from a Matter Battle
A Matter Battle is the conflict between human intentions and the laws and behaviors of the physical universe. Material acts that are without intention, or where intention is purposefully exploratory such as drip painting, are not Matter Battles.
In a Matter Battle to Undo is to Redo
Matter Battles generally involve actions for which “undo” costs a lot of time, money, or both. This is because matter tends to exhibit characteristics such as: heaviness, largeness, crumbliness, and unwieldiness. In most cases Matter is not self-healing and does not have a native ability to regenerate, therefore resulting in a situation where mistakes tend to turn a piece of matter into useless scrap.
Matter does not Share Space
Matter is mutually exclusive. This is a fancy way of saying that one bit of matter generally cannot exist in the exact same place as another bit of matter. Therefore decisions will have to be made about which bit of matter occupies space with preference, thereby causing all other bits of matter to take a subsidiary position. This is particularly tricky when mapping abstract concepts such as a grid of overlapping lines onto the physical world. Three dimensional things do not easily overlap.
The Behavior of Matter is Hard to Predict Well Without Great Expense
Most of the time it will be too expensive to fully predict the behavior of matter or the full extent of actions which will be required to execute your desires upon matter. This explains the difference in tolerance between industrial activities, such as product-making which relies on repetitive processes, and more singular activities such as building a building. Unless one has the time and money to fixate on material decisions there will be some flying by the seat of one’s pants. In certain complex piles of Matter these ad-hoc decisions may compound to produce undesirable effects.
Matter Battles are Always Low Tech
Because Matter Battles are ultimately about the inescapability of physical laws, they constantly remind us that no matter high tech your implements there is always room for basic failure. Even robots fall down. 3D printers get their nozzles gunked up; laser cutters burn their lenses; and CNC machines still require raw material to be roughly screwed into place before they are worked on. High tech tools generally have low tech components somewhere in their workflow.
Matter Battles are Hard to Understand Until You’re In One
Most people who will read this blog post are already so used to working, perhaps even living, in the digital that the Matter Battle described above might seem overhyped. This is because we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that we’ve mastered the material world. And to some extent we have. We’ve been to the bottom of the ocean and the top of the heavens, and yet putting things together (or taking them apart) rarely goes exactly according to plan.