Hardware, Everywhere.

An Invitation to a New Field of Media Materialism

Wolfgang Schäffner
Director of the Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Techniques
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
November 2, 2022
12:00 – 1:30 pm
Julis Romo Rabinowitz Building - 102 Conference Room C
panel of images with ironwork, circuitry and nature

The workshop focuses a fundamental shift towards active matter, which will be presented as an invitation into a new field of media research. This approach combines critical historical conceptual analysis, experimental practice and designerly projecting for rethinking the relationship between the material and the symbolic.

We will focus on the dichotomy of passive materials and (symbolic) activity, which is still an unquestioned strategy and foundation of our modern culture. The destructive effects on nature of this strategy of control and domination are becoming increasingly evident. Since the 19th Century modern technology has been based on passive materials such as iron as basic ‘hardware’ and has excluded the materials’ own activity as failure or defect. Also, the digital revolution and its corresponding hardware rely on neutral material carriers for performing externally programmed activity.

In contrast to this implementation of immaterial symbolic or digital operations we will rely on a new relationship between material and information, where materials are no longer seen as passive but as intrinsically active. The principle of active matter is particularly evident in the field of bio-materials: This new kind of hardware can be understood as analogically coded matter (see: Active Materials, 2022) and as such it incorporates all immaterial qualities of symbolic-geometric and informational operations. Elaborating this new vision about active materials is directed towards the re-inventing of the analog in the digital age as a new field of media materialism.

Workshop Texts:   
Schäffner, W. (2017) “Immateriality of Materials”. In: Doll, N., Bredekamp, H., Schäffner, W. (eds.) +ultra. knowledge & gestaltung. [Exhibition catalog Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin] Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, pp. 23-32.  (digital copy)

Eder, M.; Schäffner, W; Burgert, I.; Fratzl, P., “Wood and the activity of dead tissue,” Advanced Materials 33, no. 28 (2021): 1-15.

Fratzl, P.; Friedman, M.; Krauthausen, K.; Schäffner, W. (Eds.) (2022):  Active Materials. Berlin: De Gruyter STEM.

Feynman R.P. (1959): “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. An invitation to Enter a New Field of Physics”.