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Sludge & Rocks: a Making Task

Natural Minerals

‘So much of what surrounds us started life as various rocks and sludge buried in the ground in various places in the world. But, of course, they don’t look like rocks and sludge now. They look like TV cameras, monitors, annoying radio mics.’

Thomas Thwaites, TED Talk about Toaster Project (2016) 

We move through most of our days without thinking about the stuff that makes them possible. If we did, we wouldn’t have time to think about much else.

You can’t even get out of bed and clean your teeth without touching literally hundreds of things, made in factories and processing plants all around the world. We live in the middle of incredibly complex networks of movement and exchange: everything from our underwear to our laptops has passed through many hands before reaching us. 

We are going to do a series of exercises which aim to engage each of us afresh with the everyday material world, and start to deepen our understanding of how deeply interconnected our lives are with ecologies, resources and people: some distant in time as well as in space.

Part 1

We will ask the students to bring with them to the first meeting an everyday object. The first task will be to deconstruct that object using whatever means possible into its constituent parts, bringing it as close as can be to its original materials. The student will photograph this process and the outcome.

Part 2

The second part of the task will involve asking the students to remake their objects, as far as possible, from scratch. This means going back to the raw materials of each component part -  trying to find and dig them out of the ground - and then processing them where possible with the tools and equipment to hand. The aim is to produce a replica object of the deconstructed object. This will then be photographed by the student.

Part 3

This last part of the task invites the students to describe - through a drawing, prose narrative or whatever tools are available - the story of their object from its origins as materials scattered across the globe, to their current status as an assembled perfect object in their hands.


George Ancona, Bananas: From Manolo to Margie (1982)

Mario Carpo, Republics of Makers (2018)

Tim Ingold, Making (2013)

Zoe Laughlin: How to Make, 3-part BBC Series (2020)

Finnbar Livesley, From Global to Local: The Making of Things and the End of Globalisation (2017)

David Pye, The Nature & the Art of Workmanship (1968)

Leonard Read, I, Pencil (1958)

Thomas Thwaites, The Toaster Project (2011)

Flatpack Empire, 3-part BBC Documentary (2018)

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