Material Witchery: Tactility Factory as a site of emerging ethical practice

Ruth Morrow

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    Autumn Stanley dedicated her career to writing and researching women and technology, resulting in multiple papers and the seminal publication, ‘Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology’ (Stanley, 1995). In a later essay, ‘Women hold up two thirds of the sky’, she argues that technologies only become lauded and understood as significant once they are appropriated by men. She cites the example of herbal remedies developed by women becoming understood as medicine and drugs, only when ‘invented’ by men (Stanley, 1998). For Stanley, Catholic institutions and their male doctors discredited healers and wise women, branding them as witches as a means to ‘wrestle control of medicine from their herbally-trained females counterparts’. In recognition of Autumn Stanley’s wise women, this essay claims the term ‘witchery’ as a mark of expertise and persistence in areas, and in a manner, outside the normative and frequently gendered conventions of material practice and technology.

    This essay examines a collaborative material practice between two women that is imbued with such witchery. The collaboration is between Trish Belford, a renowned textile designer and researcher, and myself, Ruth Morrow, architect and academic. Our working relationship stems from a mutual interest and respect for each other’s discipline, but we quickly decided on the utopian challenge of making hard things soft as a means to bring purpose and focus to our collaborative practice. The ambition of the project also draws on a long-term engagement with inclusive design and feminist critiques of the built environment that I as an architect have previously been involved in . Two observations that evolved out of inclusive design thinking were: the paucity of sensory stimulation in the built environment, and that: the majority of materials, products and systems that make up the built environment are designed to meet a technical specification and not a human specification. These observations combined with an understanding that feminist practice demands a conceptual shift meant that the work of Tactility Factory has sought to strategically contribute to the built environment not in form, but rather in detail and concept. This is a deliberate push to link conceptual and utopian thinking with the experienced narratives of every-day spatial encounters, through a practice-based and situated methodology.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationFeminist Futures of Spatial Practice: Materialisms, Activisms, Dialogues, Pedagogies, Projections
    EditorsMeike Schalk, Therese Kristiansson, Ramia Maze
    Place of PublicationBaunach, Germany
    PublisherSpurbuchverlag: Art Architecture Design Research
    Number of pages19
    ISBN (Print)9783887784898
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2017

    Publication series

    NameArt Architecture Design Research


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