Network Fluidity. Materials in Motion

From an art historical and cultural studies’ point of view, the research network explores mutable substances and material processes, paying particular attention to their aesthetic, imaginary, and epistemic dimensions and potentials. The historical and theoretical engagement with fluids and ephemeral material phenomena opens up a field of investigation that has mostly been neglected by material (culture) studies and art history alike; both giving preference to the hardware of the material world, i.e. to the materiality of objects and things. In contrast, the research network focusses on the world of materials with its never-ending movements and transitions, its interactions and exchanges.

This shift seems necessary both due to environmental and social challenges of the so-called Anthropocene and significant developments in artistic production. On the one hand, we are in need of an ecology of materials that takes into account the open-endedness of material goings-on and the dynamics of substances within complex technological, economic, and ecological systems and cycles. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that artists increasingly exhibit volatile and transient materials and processes, i.e. they often operate within the realm of matter without creating object-like artworks.

It is against this backdrop that the network puts fluid materials at the centre of its research, studying various aspects of matter in flux: We delve into the aesthetics and epistemologies of the fluid, reflect the mutability and variability of materialisation and transformation processes, and examine the productivity and agency of mobile materials. Moreover, we take a closer look at the interdependencies and circulations of material flows, and scrutinize different phases, velocities, and mixtures of materials in motion. The network also critically reassesses fluidity as a figure of thought and reconsiders prevailing metaphors of flow. Finally but importantly, we discuss the consequences the inclusion of liquid and mutable substances may have for the debate on materiality, and how the latter can be advanced.

The goal of the network, thus, is twofold: First, we seek to add a hitherto overlooked area of research to both art history and cultural studies. Second, we aim to outline approaches that supplement object-oriented concepts of materiality and contribute to a more profound theorization of materials. The project’s main objectives are to further the understanding of our world of materials and to develop a material literacy of the fluid.