Workshop plan and documentation, led by Kate Pickering

MARs Workshop Series on Materiality for Phd researchers, organised by artist and senior lecturer in the art department at Goldsmiths, Laura White. Studio A, Goldsmiths College

21st November 2017


MARs Materiality Workshop 2

3 - 5pm 19 participants

Through this workshop, Kate will facilitate a collective exploration of embodied materiality in the enmeshing of body, voice and site. The session will move between states of listening, speaking, reflecting and writing. Together, we will flesh out the following structure:

Starting with the micro and working our way to the macro, we will begin in the interior, listening to and projecting outwards the rhythms and vibrations of our own lively materiality.

Moving into the boundary between inside and outside, how bodily sensory perception allows us to interface with the outside world, we will consider the impact of listening to various forms of vocalisation to create embodied affects inside our bodies.

Lastly we will project the exterior into the interior through writing, exploring how site impacts bodies, how particular environments give rise to certain affects. What aliveness or liveliness is apparent in those sites, how do they materialise in our bodies and how do site and body become enmeshed?

As participants arrive: Play body sounds through the table, ask people to come and listen using their elbows/ fingers in ears and/or wooden mouth sticks.

3.10 pm Introduction

This workshop will focus on embodied materiality. This will be a chance to experience and think the lively materiality of the body and to see bodies as no more or less than another part of the world of matter. We’re going to think about how the seeming immateriality of language and emotion materialize in the body, how they originate from and return to the body, and how bodies and sites intermingle.

Introduce the workshop - run through the three sections, listening to our bodies, bodily vocalisations, writing body sites.

This will be an open space for exploring together, I’m not an expert, wanting to facilitate us all to make our own explorations into and with our bodies. Some of it might seem really basic, some of it might move us out of our comfort zones, sometimes we might feel bored or fidgety, it will be slow and unhurried, but as researchers let us recognise how we think through and with our bodies.

3.15p.m We will begin with a body scan mindfulness meditation

Get yourself in comfortable position, lie down if you wish. Settle into the cushions or onto the floor. Begin by bringing your attention into your body. You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you. Notice your body seated wherever you’re seated, feeling the weight of your body on the cushions, on the floor. Take some deep breaths.

And as you take a deep breath, bring more oxygen into your body. Pay attention to how this feels. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply. Notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure, vibration, heat. Notice your legs, pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness. Notice your back pressing against the cushion or floor. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a breath. Let your face and facial muscles be soft. Relax your jaw, soften your neck and throat. Let your shoulders be soft. Then notice your whole body present. Take another breath.

And now picture in your mind’s eye a patch of your skin on your chest. You are looking down onto it, your vision is enlarging, like a lens magnifying, tiny hairs and pores are becoming apparent, and the smooth surface is focusing into a furrowed and creviced landscape. Now you are descending into the soft layers of the epidermis through a pore, down through the dermis into the hypodermis, past sweat glands you see through subcutaneous fat globules, glistening yellow. You pass a tangle of pink connective tissue and go in through the dense fibres of muscle tissues and find yourself inside the circulatory system. You are in a vein, tumbling past nodules and glands until you are funneled into a capillary. You shrink still further and find yourself inside the concavity of a white blood cell. You descend into the nucleus. Inside the nucleus are nucleons—protons and neutrons, made of quarks and held together by the strong force generated by gluon exchange between quarks, subatomic particles with an electrical charge. Here is where the most basic units of matter exist in a lively interaction with themselves. You rest on the surface of the quark. You are touched by other quarks. Karen Barad writes:

Matter is not the given, the unchangeable, the bare facts of nature. It is not inanimate, lifeless, eternal. Matter is an imaginative material exploration of non/being, creatively regenerative, an ongoing trans*/formation. Matter is a condensation of dispersed and multiple beings-times, where the future and past are diffracted into now, into each moment. Matter is caught up in its own and others desiring fields. It cannot help but touch itself in an infinite exploration of its (im/possible) be(com)ing(s). And in touching it/self, it partners promiscuously and perversely with otherness in a radical ongoing deconstruction and (re)configuring of itself. Matter is a wild exploration of trans*animacy, self-experimentations/self re-creations, not in an autopoietic mode, but on the contrary, in a radical undoing of “self”, of individualism. Ever lively, never identical with itself, it is unaccountably multiple, mutable. Matter is not mere being, but its ongoing un/doing… [1]

Take a breath. And then when you’re ready, you can open your eyes.

3.30 pm Listening and vocalization

For this section we’re going to experience how the immateriality of language materializes in our bodies through communication and reception. Denise Riley writes that: ‘Language is impersonal: its working through and across us is indifferent to us, yet in the same blow it constitutes the fibre of the personal’. [2] Monique Wittig defends a materialist approach to language, writing:

Language casts sheaves of reality upon the social body, stamping it and violently shaping it… there is a plasticity of the real to language: language has a plastic action upon the real. [3]

Language is expressed in the materiality of the voice and returns to the body through its ordering and telling of social and material reality.

Sitting in a circle on the floor. With your eyes closed I’d like you to recall something that you listened to recently that produced a strong or obvious embodied affect or response in your body. It might be a piece of music, a speech or something that was said to you. Recall it your mind now. Hold that moment in your mind. Pay attention to any particular feelings the shape of the language, the tenor of the voice, the meaning of the words, give rise to in your body. Think about the sensations you’re encountering, are they located in particular areas of the body? Is it a stinging at the back of the eyelids, a tension across the forehead, a warmth in the chest, a weight in the gut? Feel it, don’t name it yet. We are going to materialize back outwards that material response in our body to language.

First, we’re going to listen to different forms of vocalization. As you’re listening to them, think where the sounds are arising from in the bodies of those who vocalise them- are other parts of the body used rather than the mouth or throat? What is the location of the sound? What affects arise in your body whilst listening?

Ululating 5 seconds in

Throat singing 1.30 seconds in

Rugby Haka 1- 37 seconds

Polyphonic singing 25- 52 seconds in


Choral 2 mins in

Byork – Mouth’s Cradle all til 2.40 secs

Matmos - Just Waves 2 mins approx.

Marina Abramovic – Freeing the voice, 45 min performance 30 seconds in

Now I’d like us to find a comfortable spot and relax into it. Mladen Dolar writes:

There must be a body to support it and assume it, its disembodied network must be pinned to a material source, the bodily emission must provide the material to embody the signifier, the disembodied signifying mechanics must be attached to bodily mechanics, if only in its most intangible and “sublimated” form, the mere oscillation of air which keeps vanishing the moment it is produced, materiality at its most intangible and hence in its most tenacious form. The first obvious quality of the voice is that it fades away the moment it is produced. [4]

Close your eyes again. Breathe deeply and slowly. We’re going to revisit that place in our bodies where we felt the impact of the music, speech or voice we heard. Hear it and feel it again. Now I’d like to invite you to vocalise a sound from the point at which you feel that embodied emotion. Continue to breathe deeply. Picture the sound vibrating in that location in the body, picture it building and growing and coming up from inside. In a moment we’re all going to vocalise together, if we all do it at the same time it will be less embarrassing. Try to pay attention to your own body and voice, there is no right or wrong way to do this, but also listen to your voice mingling with the other sounds in the room. It might be rhythmic or one long sound, high or low pitched, it might be a word or a sound or a series of words and sounds. We will vocalise for as long as it feels comfortable, it might be 30 seconds, might be several minutes but feel free to go for longer. You can keep going until you feel as though you have emptied the tension out of that location within the body. Have that location pictured in your mind right now. I’m going to count us in: 1, 2, 3…

Would anyone like to say how that felt?

5 min break

4 pm Writing site bodies

(Show projected image of Pyura Chilensis)

Now I’d like us to think about the relationship between body and site. The human body is never static and discrete, so body and site intermingle physically, also, through affect, they become perceptually enmeshed. We are going to perceive porous boundaries between our bodies and particular sites. Stacey Alaimo proposes that we inhabit ‘Transcorporeality’: the time-space where human corporeality, in all its material fleshiness, is inseparable from ‘nature’ or ‘environment’. Alaimo writes, that in this thinking across bodies, environment is not an empty space or inert but ‘a world of fleshy beings, with their own needs, claims and actions.’ [5] Exchanges with our environments, how site and body intra-act, lead to recompositions and decompositions of our bodies. Similarly Nancy Tuana argues that we need to account for interactionism that acknowledges the agency of materiality and the porosity of entities. She writes: ‘The boundaries between our flesh and the flesh of the world we are of and in are porous.’ Tuana states the need to recognise: ‘an emergent interplay which precludes a sharp divide between the biological and the cultural.’ [6]

I’d like you to spend a few moments now remembering, very simply, how you felt in certain public sites. Remember the feeling of your body in these places. Remember the feeling of sitting in a school hall. Did being there give rise to certain affects? Where in the body did you feel these sensations? Did it affect how you interacted within or with the site? Now recall a time you were at a music festival or concert. Now think about a time you took part in a religious celebration or meeting in a religious building.

We are going to read 5 short extracts, 3 from literary fiction and 2 from memoirs. (Ask people to read them out):

Italo Calvino A King Listens (1986) p.38

Walter Benjamin Berlin Childhood around 1900 (2006) p.99

JG Ballard Concrete Island (1973) p 70-71

Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) p.16-17

Marion Coutts The Iceberg (2014) p.258

Each of these readings describe a subjective and embodied response to sites of particular emotional significance in which site and body become enmeshed, from the King who listens apprehensively for the shouts of those within the palace who might come to depose him, the male executive stranded and unable to escape from a concrete motorway island, to the woman whose life revolves around the hospital in which her husband is dying of a brain tumor. I’d like to invite you to spend some time thinking about a site of particular significance to you. It might be a site that has proven significant in shaping how you see yourself. The site might be a place which forms part of your identity, or in which you’ve had a significant experience.

Think and then write the body from the outside in…

What is it about the particular combination of materiality that impacts on you? It is site dark, is it small and cocooning, on a domestic scale or vast and impressive? It is minimal, baroque, functional, theatrical? What objects would you encounter in the space? What materials do your body come into contact with? Spend few minutes visualizing yourself back within that site, feeling its material qualities. Write a list of words, phrases or short sentences that spring to mind. They don’t have to be descriptive. Don’t overthink, just write.

Now, think the body outwards...

What kinds of feelings in your body are evoked by being in this place? Consider how bodies are located/ placed within the site. How are social hierarchies materialised in the space? How does your body physically feel in that space? Is it comfortable, cold, disorientated, bored, expectant? Do you feel intimidated, free, a sense of belonging, anxious? And where in the body are those feelings located? Again spend a few minutes visualizing yourself back into the space, and then write a list of words or short sentences in response, whatever words, thoughts, feelings, sensations come to mind.

Now jumble up the words/ phrases/ short sentences. Recombine. Rewrite. No need to write a linear description, but write combinations of words in whatever format feels apposite where the liveliness, the agency in the site becomes apparent.

Provide opportunity at the end for participants to share their writing.



[1] Barad, K ‘Transmaterialities: Trans*/Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings’ GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol. 2, Nos. 2-3 (June 2015) pp.387-422 p. 411

[2] Riley, D. (2005) Impersonal Passion Durham: Duke University Press p.1

[3] Wittig, M. (1985) ‘The Mark of Gender’ in Nancy K., The Poetics of Gender, New York: Columbia University Press p. 78

[4] Dolar, M (2006) A Voice and Nothing More MIT Press, p.59

[5] Alaimo, S (2009) Trans Corporeal Feminisms and the Ethical Space of Nature in eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman Material Feminisms (2009) Indiana U.P.

[6] Tuana, N (2009) VISCOUS POROSITY: WITNESSING KATRINA in eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman Material Feminisms (2009) Indiana U.P.


Extracts from these will be read out during the workshop, it is not essential to read them beforehand.

Eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman Material Feminisms (2009) Indiana U.P. (In particular Nancy Tuana VISCOUS POROSITY: WITNESSING KATRINA and Stacy Alaimo Trans Corporeal Feminisms and the Ethical Space of Nature)

Karen Barad ‘Trans*/Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings’ GLQ A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Volume 21, Numbers 2-3, June 2015, pp. 387-422 Available at:

Eds. Diana Coole & Samantha Frost New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (2010) Duke U.P. (In particular William Connolly Materialities of Experience and Sara Ahmed Orientations Matter)

Italo Calvino A King Listens (1986) p.38

Walter Benjamin Berlin Childhood around 1900 (2006) p.99

JG Ballard Concrete Island (1973) p 70-71

Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) p.16

Marion Coutts The Iceberg (2014) p.258