New Materialisms | esse arts + opinions

New Materialisms

101 - Hiver 2021

By focusing on the expressivity, dynamism, and agency of matter, neo-materialism theories differ from classical philosophical materialism, which tends to regard matter as essentially passive and inert. This issue reflects on the reconfiguration of materiality in terms of social, political, artistic, and scientific practices that are no longer restricted to the human spectrum, but are under the aegis of “life” in its entirety, including the “non-living”.


Articles à la pièce

Giovanni Aloi
Marie-Charlotte Carrier
Andrea Williamson
Joëlle Dubé & María Castañeda-Delgado
Behnaz Farahi
Julie-Ann Latulippe
Ruth Jones
Philippe Vandal


Conversing with Matter
Sylvette Babin

FEATURE : New Materialisms

The Ethics of Material Visibility
Jamaica-born mixed-media artist Ebony G. Patterson recontextualizes gender norms and explores Jamaican dancehall culture through highly engaging, colourful installations incorporating tapestry, beading, sequins, crochet, wallpaper, and internet-sourced images of violent murders. Patterson leverages the appeal of different everyday materialities in order to collapse the distance between high and low culture and draw our attention to the instances of violence and social injustice we often fail to notice.

Giovanni Aloi

Monstrous Matter
In recent years, scientists and humanities researchers have started to understand organisms as nodes in complex networks—networks so intricate that it’s impossible to distinguish where an organism begins or ends. As humanity deals with the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, the porosity of being seems as relevant as it is unsettling. Exposing the precarity of the interconnectedness of our biological lives, the pandemic reminds us that symbiotic relations are constantly renewed and negotiated, and when conditions suddenly shift, once life-sustaining relations can become deadly. Although this realization may seem new for the vast majority of people, artists have developed practices deeply rooted in making sense of life’s entanglements. The author explores the ways in which Croatian artist Dora Budor’s recent works speak to the interconnectedness of matter from biological and historical points of view, revealing how it helps us make sense of the messy and troubled times we find ourselves in.

Marie-Charlotte Carrier

A Many-Handed Practice
The practice of artists Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley (Leisure) progresses by seeking collaborative relationships between themselves and histories, environments, people, and materials. Biosemiotic theory proposes that all life—not just human life and culture—is creative and communicative (using sign-making, interpretation, and play as form of selection). The author interprets Leisure’s works as inclusive world-building projects that evolve from and participate in the biosemiotic processes of relational attention, creative play, and interpretation.

Andrea Williamson

Cannibal Actif: The Artist Book as Threshold for Material Encounters
Centred around the artist book Cannibal Actif (2017) by Rochelle Goldberg, the authors explore three main vectors: oil, permeability, and cannibalism. As themes discussed throughout Goldberg’s book, these vectors also allow a new materialist reading of Cannibal Actif, one that investigates the intimate and eminently material intra-action between the public and the artist book as such. Moreover, oil, permeability, and cannibalism can ultimately lead us to a different understanding of the “consumption” of contemporary art.

Joëlle Dubé & María Castañeda-Delgado

Material Expressivity in Active Materials
The relationship between form (morphe) and matter (hyle) has been crucial in the history of art and design making. Yet, for the most part, form has been privileged over matter. Unlike the holomorphic model, the morphogenetic model celebrates dynamic process over fixed representation. In the morphogenetic model, materiality is expressed; the expressivity of materials has nothing to do with linguistics but centres on colour, sound, texture, and the movement of matter. Using several projects as illustrations, the author examines the role of material expressivity in both living and non-living systems, and addresses the implementation of active materials in art and design practices.

Behnaz Farahi

Beyond the Image: When the Materiality of the Photograph Eclipses Representation
Although photography has long been considered a “transparent” medium whose support disappears to make room for its representation, the material dimension of photographic objects has now become a focus for examining the effect of this materiality on how they perform. Damaged film photographs made unreadable by the natural elements, torn up in a rush of emotion, or disfigured by embroidery thread contribute to an understanding of the agency of photographic objects and the reactions they solicit in those who look at them and handle them.
[Translated from the French by Oana Avasilichioaei]

Julie-Ann Latulippe

Zero Sum: Kristiina Lahde’s Systems of Objects
In her materials-based practice, Toronto artist Kristiina Lahde explores the relationships between objects and information. Building spaces from measuring tapes and yardsticks, folding plain white printer paper into architectural forms, and—most recently—collecting and collaging zeros in spirals that suggest the infinities they contain, the artist builds worlds full of mathematical possibility. The author explores the material tensions in Lahde’s work, attempting to go beyond a reading of novelty to discover how relationships with objects can lead to an understanding of information systems as substance as well as signs.

Ruth Jones

Sinks and Spills: The Containment and Entanglements of Matter-Bodies in Frédéric-Back Park
Reflecting on the indeterminacy of the social repercussions and environmental longevity of Frédéric-Back Park, in Montréal, the author makes use of Jennifer Gabrys’s “sink” concept to argue that the former landfill has a material agency of its own, which cannot be contained, defined, or circumscribed by technological or political apparatuses. The idea of environmental gentrification, a powerful tool in the reinvigoration of low-income neighborhoods, is used for exploring the mattered entanglements found in the Lemay architecture firm’s designs for Frédéric-Back Park. The author discusses speculative entanglements between the architect’s concurrent design of the park’s biogas wells and the Laval Immigration Holding Centre by examining their analogous containment of bodies and matter. Gabrys’s definition of “spill” is extended to relate both projects to their (un)determined socio-cultural outcomes.

Philippe Vandal


Eugene Park
The invisible vital forces of objects and materials, often difficult to discern with the limited capacity of our senses, guide the plastic and philosophical nature of Eugene Park’s research. […] In line with theories promoting a renewed consciousness of the tangible and phenomenological world, [her] sculptural practice evokes how materials function in their own specific ways, autonomously, by disrupting the unfolding of often imperceptible events.

Milly-Alexandra Dery

WhiteFeather Hunter
Figure inclassable de la scène artistique actuelle, WhiteFeather Hunter se réclame autant de la sorcellerie, de la science et de la recherche que des arts visuels. Dans la mouvance d’un retour en force des approches et théories écoféministes et néomatérialistes en art actuel, celle qui se dit à la fois sorcière et artiste s’emploie à mettre en lumière l’agentivité de la matière à travers une pratique qui enchevêtre artisanat et technologie de pointe. […]

Anne-Marie Dubois

Maude Bernier Chabot
[…] If in an Indigenous worldview North America sits atop the back of a great turtle, then what is below the turtle? “Why, another turtle,” comes the reply, à la the writer Thomas King. “It’s turtles all the way down.” In the work of Maude Bernier Chabot, what lies below the surface is another contradictory surface. Impossible to point to what is being contained, it is surfaces all the way down. […]

Emily Jan

Susan Schuppli
[…] Through a transdisciplinary approach based on an alliance of scientific and Indigenous expertise and the collaboration of local communities, Schuppli sheds light on the agency of these non-living actors — objects, technologies, natural resources — to shape the framework of historical discourse. […]

Anne-Marie Dubois

Stanley Février
[…] An important part of Février’s live, photographic, drawn, and object-based work centres on representations and instantiations of his own body in a state of becoming. Documenting the friction of his skin against various surfaces, not in the least the daily traumas of institutional racism and the abrasiveness of polite white liberalism, the artist gives corporeal form to urgency, intensity, and survival. […]

Didier Morelli


Vague à l’âme
Michel F Côté


Visual Arts

Steve Heimbecker, Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke, by Sophie Drouin

Repriser / Mending, Galerie de l’UQAM, Montréal, by Didier Morelli

The Musical Years: 1920–2020, VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine, Montréal, by Austin Henderson

Hubert Duprat, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, by Vanessa Morisset

Yazan Khalili, Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, by Anaïs Castro

Bill Fontana, Kunsthaus Graz, by Vanessa Morisset

Elizabeth McIntosh, Oakville Galleries, Gairloch Gardens and Centennial Square, Oakville, by Alex Bowron

What Does Democracy Look Like?, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, by Giovanni Aloi

Amélie Laurence Fortin, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, by Gustav Elgin

Virtual Visits

Cadrer la nature, Centre d’exposition de l’Université de Montréal, by Dominique Sirois-Rouleau

distance between us, L’Écart, Rouyn-Noranda, by Maude Johnson

Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Fondation Grantham pour l’art et l’environnement, Saint-Edmond-de-Grantham, by Sophie Drouin

Bridget Moser, Remai Modern, Saskatoon, by Daniella Sanader


Presentation of the issue New Materialisms

Esse 101 — Nouveaux matérialismes | New Materialisms
Esse 101 — Nouveaux matérialismes | New Materialisms

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