Friday, May 18, 2012

The Material Collective Manifesto

a guest post by The Material Collective

On May 10, 2012, the Material Collective rose up out of the audience at the Babel-sponsored, “Burn after Reading...” We have dutifully burned that original document, but have recreated it digitally here, for those who might care to share the experience:

We are the Material Collective, a group of medievalists interrogating visual materials. We seek to:
promote transparency
and blunder 

As a collaborative of students of visual culture, Material Collective seeks to foster a safe space for alternative ways of thinking about objects. 

We strive for transparency in our practice, and we encourage the same in our institutional surroundings. 

Our project touches upon both form and content, as we pursue a lyrical and experimental style of writing along with a more humane, collaborative, and supportive process of scholarship. 

We encourage spontaneity in writing art history, including an acknowledgement of our subject positions;

therefore we embrace the incorporation of personal narrative and reflection in our historical interpretations. 

Our specific interests vary, but we are all committed to prioritizing the materiality of things, the relationships between those things and the human beings who experience them, and the intimacy of past and present moments in time. 

As we celebrate, dwell in, and embrace the basic materiality of our objects, we work to find ways to foreground the material of the objects themselves into larger historical analysis. 

Central to this effort is a desire to support each other as we attempt to create experimental approaches, and to embrace both the successes and potential failures of our ventures into new ways of thinking. 

We are also working to increase the legitimacy of these approaches in the academic world, primarily by practicing them, loudly and often

We are as much a support group as a scholarly group. We share the joys and sorrows of career, life and our academic work. 

For us, this is not a mere exercise -- we stand by our manifesto.

we value:
-experimental processes
-transparency, revelation
-a blank space
-joy in faltering. together
so say we all
so say we all

We invite you to join us on Facebook, to visit our new website, and to keep an eye out for our session proposals in the (near) future!

The manifesto was composed by the following Material Collective members:

Marian Bleeke
Jennifer Borland
Rachel Dressler
Martha Easton
Martin K. Foys
Anne F. Harris
Asa Simon Mittman
Karen Overbey
Angela Bennett Segler
Ben C. Tilghman
Nancy M. Thompson
Maggie M. Williams


Eileen Joy said...

This is just really heartening; that's what I mainly have to say at present. I think the part I like best [okay, this is another thing] is where they say they're going to increase the legitimacy of their approaches by PRACTICING them, loudly and often. I'm also really encouraged to see this statement of support for each other--to help each other through successes, but even more so, failures, and to let things get messy, as regards the supposed border between the "professional" and the "personal."

Eileen Joy said...

Let me also say here that seeing the Material Collective enunciate and profess this manifesto in person was extremely moving. I would say something like, affinity is in the air.

Maggie Williams said...

Thank you so much, Eileen, for your recognition and unwavering support. I was nervous that our statement was too simple, but I suppose that what is basic and human(e) really can ring true.

We're building the website and working on future sessions and publications, and Asa has made us some great materials to collect at

Let's keep the conversation going!