“The thing shines, not the maker”


After reading Ingold (and even after digesting Miller and Tilley’s sound critiques) I have the impression that he presents us with a new sensibility from which to consider the materials around us and ourselves as a part of that material world.  His approach may strike some as incredibly naïve and prehistoric, but I found it not only compelling but bold and generative.  Maybe his perspective is seductive to me because I have always been intrigued by the simple and the tangible, by praxis and creativity.  But I find something about his position that feels grounded in a certainty that has been gained through direct engagement and insightful risk-taking.  He privileges concepts that are often overlooked by the academy, choosing to think in terms of the ‘flux of materials’, material histories, meshwork, and currents.


Using the sensibility that Ingold sets forth I am able to highlight two artists whom I think echo his privileging of materials over materiality, and his idea concerning the generation of form, in that it “comes into being through the gradual unfolding of that field of forces set up through the active and sensuous engagement of practitioner and material.” (On Weaving a Basket, 342)


The first artist is Martin Puryear, a contemporary sculptor that I encountered a few years ago at a MoMA retrospective.  Walking around amongst his finely formed creations, I was struck by his mastery of technique, his apparent respect of materials, and his harmonic embodiments (by which I mean I could not discern where material started and object ended).  As critic Neal Benezra noted, Puryear work recalls the words of Soetsu Yanagi, “the thing shines, not the maker.”


installation view MoMA


Puryear himself has spoken about his work in ways that for me strikes a cord with Ingold’s viewpoints.

“I was never interested in making cool, distilled, pure objects.”

“A lot of my work comes from an interest in how things are made and how things are done. And the way materials are manipulated and used … and the whole history of that in mankind’s past … and the language that develops around the way materials are used that has a life of its own.”

“I’m interested in vernacular cultures, where people lived a little closer to the source of materials and the making of objects for use.”


SELF, 1978

“My vehicle typically is to make work that is about the presentation of the work itself and what went into the making of the work as an object. And there’s a story in the making of objects. There’s a narrative in the fabrication of things, which to me is fascinating. Not as fascinating perhaps as the final form or the final object itself, but I think by working incrementally there’s a built in story in the making of things which I think can be interesting.”



For more go to: Art21 interview: Abstraction & “Ladder for Booker T. Washington


Interview on npr: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2007/11/29/segments/89551


The other artist I would like to mention is Jimmie Durham.  Using many avenues (performance, sculpture, drawings, video, and writing) he resists addressing issue from afar of through circuitous methods but rather vigorously, in-dialogue.  

Lange Stone

Lange Stone

Here is an except from a recent Artforum article by Anne Ellegood:

“Durham works with many different materials, both natural and
artificial, but he is particularly drawn to those that have
historically been used to make tools-bone, wood, feathers, and,
increasingly, stone….
For Durham, stone is the ultimate sculptural form, not only because
one can carve into it to create a representation but also because
each stone is itself a slowly changing entropie sculpture, shaped
over time by the elements. Indeed, Durham is fascinated by the
personality of stones, by the ways in which a static object can
become incredibly active, a character in an unfolding story-quite
aside from how such anthropomorphism may call to mind totems or other
ritualistic objects…
Moreover, stone’s status as sculpture, and consequently its
prominent role in the history of art, is provocatively reversed
through Durham‘s use of stone as a tool for sculpting other



And here is a bit of Jimmie’s own thoughts:




“Beginning in the mid-1960s, I worked with everything I found,
whether it was objects or material. In general, though, I find
man-made objects too talkative and boring, while I am a fanatical
lover of all that material is-plastic, bone, iron, wood. In the
United States, the poor stuff of our continent has been so degraded
and feared; I am not sure that anyone over in Europe, for example,
would have had the idea to carve giant heads of national leaders into
the side of a mountain.”

… I decided to work primarily with stone, as an antiarchitecture, antimonument tool.

 And yet many objects really are beautiful, aren’t they? Is there
anyone who does not love oak barrels, with their beautiful shape,
texture, and technology? I love metal oil barrels in the same way.
…For decades, I have used oil barrels, usually which
are bright the ones that proclaim “Total orange. For the show in
Paris, I am making a new piece titled after the petroleum-industry
classification “sweet light crude.” It is twenty-five oil barrels
stacked three barrels high, each one painted a different pastel color
and with a different word: true, pure, good, brave, and so on.

One of my first pieces after I moved to Europe in the ’90s was an
edition of twenty-five television sets for a gallery in Antwerp. I
threw a cobblestone at the screen of each one, breaking it. There
were two assistants who would take away the completed piece and bring
out the next television set, because we were also recording the action
on video. At first it was pleasant work, with a satisfying explosion
and ensuing sound of falling glass. But after breaking four or five
television sets I began to feel nervous. The remaining televisions
all waited in a small room, and my sympathy for them grew with each
throw. Before the end, I was feeling sad and guilty. A year later, I
chose a ’50s-style refrigerator to stone. I reasoned that an old
fridge, unlike a television or automobile, would be completely
neutral to me and to everyone else-that we would feel neither delight
nor remorse at my violence toward it. So every morning for a week or
so, I carted the fridge out to the courtyard and threw cobble-stones
at it for a couple hours. I wanted to change its shape. Yet even on
the very first morning I saw that my action would be uncomfortable
for me. The innocent fridge was so quiet, so pure white; in the end I
gave it the title St. Frigo.

st. theresea

st. frigo


… Throwing stones at man-made objects,
or dropping boulders on them, is not like May ’68; it’s not even an
echo. For me, it is more like a mimetic reenactment of nature.

The Dangers of Petrification is another new piece-or maybe it’s an
ongoing piece-which pretends to be a scientific collection of objects
that have been petrified. I am a little hesitant about it, because
most people nowadays have little knowledge about the real world.”



2 Responses to ““The thing shines, not the maker””

  1. ginajae Says:

    i also loved puryear’s exhibition. had not heard durham previously, but will certainly look out for his work later. while ingold has certainly taken a beating on this round of blog posts, like alina, i did find something there worth holding onto — something to do with the notion of praxis and “things being in life” (and not the other way around). that being said, i too was a little put off by ingold’s seeming feigned naivete about what people are talking about when they talk about “materiality”, especially as what he offers in their stead is at least as challenging to consider from an epistemological standpoint. and unfortunately, his argument was not too well-served by focusing on “natural” materials as his examples — which i interpreted to be merely that: examples, not a polemic against plasticity.

  2. กลอนรัก Says:


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