Material ColLABoratory Project

From Oceanography to Art History and from Nanophotonics to Spatial Planning and Urban Futures, Utrecht University is host to a wide variety of researchers who all have one thing in common: a fundamental interest in materials. Some of us want to know about the transport of "stuff" in the ocean or try to understand the behavior of light in materials on the smallest of scales. Others study how the tiniest of fossils can help predict future sea-level rises or how artisans of the past investigated materials to ensure object-durability for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. Materials are also a defining part of society at large; they afford and sustain the interactions between people and their environment — in the past, today, and in the future. The Material ColLABoratory Project focuses on materials and making to open up fundamental conversations between humanists, scientists, and artists to facilitate multidisciplinary problem-solving regarding the (un)sustainability of a range of human activities. It does so through the organization of material engagement workshops in which participants make, manipulate, use or design a specific material.

In collaboration with the DURARE project, the Material ColLABoratory Project’s first activity concerns a series of three workshops around the theme of

Making Carbon: A Materials Workshop Series on Durability (2022 - 2023)

This workshop series is organized by Marjolijn Bol, Grace Kim-Butler, and Sanli Faez. With coordination and support from Diede Farhosh-Van Loon and Anne-Floor de Kanter, and the project's student assistants Elise Alkemade and Svetla Panagieva.

How can we open up a conversation about materials to humanists, scientists, and artists? In collaboration with the DURARE project at Utrecht University, the Material ColLABoratory Project will facilitate multidisciplinary problem-solving with “carbon” as a lens for understanding the (un)sustainability of a range of human activities that aim to make things last, i.e., durable. Through hands-on activities, we will engage materially with carbon in its many guises and environmental, social, and cultural impacts. Is there something new we can learn from each other if we look at carbon together and consider it an object of humanistic inquiry, scientific research, and artistic investigation at once? 

This hands-on workshop series will enable open-ended and creative engagement with carbon-based materials, such as plastics, dyes, and clays. In so doing, we will make explicit and evaluate multidisciplinary visions of the future, the role of carbon in these imaginaries, and for whom we are pursuing its many durabilities.

1. (Sep 13-14) ‘Mushrooming Plastics’ will explore the paradoxical relationship between the material properties of durability and degradation amid recent research into plastics decomposition and substitution.

2. (Nov 10-11) ‘Dyes That Last?’ will challenge culturally encoded ideas about how to achieve the durability of color in materials such as textiles – and why – across scientific and humanistic research.

3. (TBD) ‘Casting with Clays and Futuring with Fossils’ will examine how researchers and artists use fossil and clay materials from deep time and ancient human history to either forecast into the future or solve current environmental problems.

Would you like to know more about the Making Carbon workshops? Please contact Marjolijn Bol at