Object Oriented Ontology and tacit knowledge (or, Harman among the potters)

A proposal for a practice-based symposium

Inspired by Object Oriented Ontology, I’ve been working with the proposition that Ceramics might be a particularly useful discipline within which to explore relations between objects. Reflecting on Tim Morton’s proposal of rhetoric as a means of contacting the ‘strange stranger’, it occurred to me that making might be equally effective. All forms of craft making constitute an intimate engagement between body and material, but clay seems singular in its openness to interaction with other objects – hands, cloth mats, air, sponges, water, wooden rolling pins, temperature, steel knives, feathers, etc.
The idea to facilitate a dialogue between a potter and a philosopher came out of this thinking. Taking up Ian Bogost’s call to ‘carpentry’, I plan to have the potter make a coffee cup and then to teach the philosopher to do the same. One aim is to generate language that attempts the impossible – to express tacit, or embodied, knowledge – and to introduce the possibility of speculative investigation into the activity of making. How might we build on Heidegger’s reflection on jug making, for instance?
Potters, of course, have their own language of touch and use, but it seems to me that the common functional object might offer an under-explored and relatively uncluttered terrain. While trying to swerve the tired old art/craft dichotomy, such an object doesn’t seek to offer oblique access to other objects through imaginative deployment of metaphor, as art objects might do. It comes from a parallel world, being presented as itself, its meaning deriving from its materials, its function and, perhaps most of all, its facture. (The medium is the message, but the medium needs a mediator). I wonder if the embodied knowledge that is central to facture might be seen as a metaphor for withdrawal – it can’t be seen, it can’t be explained, it can’t be simplified. It is expressed in making and re-embodied in the made object. The making is a withdrawn element in the maker and the made.

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