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Assembly Series

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McKelvey School of Engineering

Brown School

Disorderly Materials / Contingent Objects

Sunday, December 31, 2023 | 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Teaching Gallery
Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, MO 63112

Over the past two decades, several philosophers, art theorists, and cultural critics have turned their attention to the study of matter. Philosopher Jane Bennett, for instance, has advanced a groundbreaking approach called vital materialism, which emphasizes “the capacity of things…not only to impede or block the will and designs of humans, but also to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.” There is a prevailing sense that materials and their transformations are an urgent topic to be addressed in contemporary art (and architecture). This is not an issue of pure signification or creating seductive images of inanimate things to be cast as commodities; nor is it a turn toward hard material science, high-tech fabrication processes, or computational elegance. The artworks collected in this installation speak to the agency inherent in the behavior of inanimate things. Together they raise the question, What happens when we allow materials to speak during the process of art production?

This presentation brings a set of diverse artworks into conversation through an investigation into their physical and material properties. In several cases, such as Analia Saban’s Broken Vase No. 3 (2016), the works’ materials are subject to chance operations through production processes that are only partially under the control of the artist. Other works, such as Manfred Pernice’s Foundation, Fundament ‘09 (2009), highlight the ways that matter accumulates and yields unpredictable outcomes. The installation is organized around three themes: the physical act of production, the negotiation of digital materiality, and the industrial fabrication of raw materials. Across these themes, however, the artworks on view share the complex inner lifeworlds of inanimate materials—compelling us to attribute vitality to what we might prefer to think of as inorganic or inert.

Disorderly Materials / Contingent Objects is organized by Kelley Van Dyck Murphy, assistant professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and Hans Tursack, PhD candidate in electronic arts at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in conjunction with the fall 2023 course “Digital Ceramics.”

Event Type



Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts


Arts & Culture



Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
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