The world is made for the brave and the curious; for those who do and those who take; happiness is saved for those who eat, pray, and love, continuously engaged in routines set up by the few for the many. These narratives prescribe belonging starting from a legitimation of constant movement; of processes and relationships, rather than of things or substances. Technology produced today designs objects whose hard exteriors are only meant to contain their fluid, smart, life-like interiors. How does this change the relationship we have with objects? In a world where the binary “subject-object” is constantly blurred, how do we engage with the static materiality that surrounds us?

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Industrial designers Hank Beyer and Alex Sizemore of the University of Cincinnati explore a more direct approach to material and everyday objects, as they propose “alternative outcomes for discarded material.” Their project originated in the observations of operations in a family-owned sandstone quarry along the stone formation running from Erie to Adams County, Ohio. the industrial process ends with an excess of material, which is discarded. This becomes the raw element in Beyer and Sizemore´s designs, which push the boundaries of form and function to explore possibilities of the material.

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This approach makes their process resemble a sort of excavation – a conceptual drilling into the stone, to uncover its hidden, shape-shifting potential. There is a forensic quality to their work; a search for the source and nature of the object through an inversion of existing knowledge about it: lamps, stools, and tables originate from an unexpected meeting of material and intention. The very histories of concepts such as “lamp” or “table” are in an instant shaken by these designs, and collective fictions that appropriate everyday objects are being challenged, as alternative narratives are suggested. In their common interest for technology and form, Beyer and Sizemore explore the relationship between objects and gestures; they reveal object-making to be a type of intervention into what may as well be a consciousness of the material: the hard, broken and discarded pieces of stone carry their history; every cut and edge marks the separation of the individual piece of stone from the larger, immaterial idea of stone.

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The designs are a perfect illustration of social aspects that define the embodied interaction we have with objects, emphasising forms of resistance and alternative views on production and consumption. If all objects that surround us have decay and erosion built in as a feature that sustains the chain of production, Beyer and Sizemore´s designs subvert the fragility of man-made commodities. If desires and affect are typically being accessed and made manifest through object-making, these designs ask for a recalibration of desire and a reordering of emotions. Our agency towards objects – in defining their purpose, adapting their form, placement, and relations with other objects – is what gives our relationship with objects the capacity to project power; to mark territories of mundane use and existence; to claim order and reclaim creative gesture.

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What ties us to everyday objects is the sense of permanence they transmit through the quality of acting as physical reference points for memories, and the fact that they are stand-ins for our selves, occupying the space that our bodies cannot physically occupy. Beyer and Sizemore investigate this capacity of material-turned-object to act as extension of the self, challenging the hierarchies of dynamic process and static objects; of relationship and mere form. They design for a world where the brave and the curious challenge inherited routines, call out collective fictions of their own lives, and are able to imagine alternative outcomes of their creative intentions.

Words: Elena Stanciu