Material as Actor

From the Life of Substances / 2014

Semester project at the Köln International School of Design, Cologne.




Köln International School of Design, Cologne  


together with

Prof. Dr. Carolin Höfler


The original idea behind the project was the correlation between abstract algorithms, digital codes and the material world. Today, facing an increasing existence of algorithmic artefacts, many stress that the traditional world of physical material has come to an end. But by analyzing these digital processes and products, it is not the question of dissolution of the physical world, but rather the idea of refreshing and updating an outdated concept of material. The latter has recently had its comeback in many studies. Here, „material“ is not anymore just a passive element in the process of implementing creation-oriented and design-related strategies. It has by itself developed and shaped complex structures of reciprocity in action and interaction between potential user and environment. Given this background, traditional patterns of distinction – between synthetic and organic, man-made and nature-given – begin to blur and become obsolete.


Participants of this project took into account these modifications. Through individual experiences, experiments, monitoring, and analysis, students enlarged their knowledge and directly applied it. Students thoroughly examined material in motion that ranges from flexible surfaces via liquid and volatile substances to digital codes as formed or formable matter. The students also took a closer look at the nature of analog and digital material processes, and analyzed their manifestations and repercussions. Last, but not least, students also developed a wide range of machines, devices, and other equipment directly related to their research. For example: A unit which transforms digital binary codes into smoke signals, a loud speaker system which turns frequencies of sound into patterns of iron powder, a sugar lamp which disintegrates during exercise, moist kept sheet of rice papers which fold, during the process of drying, into more solid material, and self-cultivated mushrooms of kombucha from which substances for skin-similar fabric can be extracted.