On the artifact

The ways in which we read and construe the value of artifacts within the material realm ultimately circumscribes what we are capable of conceptualizing and creating in our own constructions. Through what processes and structures do we apprehend the fabricated world that envelops us, a world that we as architects and designers endeavor to simultaneously engage and alter through our own designs? This seminar will examine how cultural significance is negotiated, qualified, projected and received through the material construct, using a number of contemporary, everyday consumer artifacts in order to consider these issues. Artifacts will be examined according to an index of cultural conditions seen to be in a state of flux and redefinition today: status, gender, security, sexuality, violence, hygiene, disease, taboo, beauty, identity, Students will document and analyze one artifact, tracing its possible histories as well as its contemporary status; its material condition and its form. The selected artifact will be positioned according to a scheme of classification, generated by each student, that attempts to locate the presence and operation of the artifact in contemporary culture – through its material qualities, use, form, and the value(s) ascribed to it.Course readings from cultural and material culture studies, philosophy, anthropology, design studies, literature and the history and theory of art and architecture, including the writings of Lewis Mumford, Nelson Goodman, Michel Foucault, Susan Stewart and Elaine Scarry, will explicate some of the ways in which cultural values, effects and affectations are seen to project upon and be represented within objects of use and desire. Rather than concentrate upon a singular method or mode of interpretation of the artifact, readings will present a selection of perspectives for the student to engage, including the following: Frames of Reference: Worldmaking; The Duplicitous Object: Tool or Weapon; Persistence: Materiality and Memory; Nature into Culture: Artifice and Abstraction; Classification: The Spatialization of Value; Erasure of the Object: Consumption, Commodity and Exchange.It is a fundamental assumption of this course that knowledge is embedded within the act of making. As a means of further considering the potential, multiple implications of an artifact as it is seen and understood within its contemporary cultural circumstances, students will design and fabricate an \'indexical\' container, one that registers the apprehension of their selected artifact through its visual rhetoric. Akin to the religious reliquary, the \'indexical\' construction will take on the pretensions of architecture, attempting to qualify, through its multiple spatial, material and descriptive agendas an understanding of the artifact within.In addition to their individual work on a selected artifact, pursued through drawing, writing and the design and construction of an \'indexical\' container, each student will be responsible for a presentation and discussion of one group of readings during the semester. Students will also be evaluated according to class participation.