The Metamorphosis of Matter

Exhibition Text: The first Mater exhibition, 2024, Amsterdam

The Metamorphosis of Matter was the first physical exhibition presented by Mater. 22-30th March 2024. Mediamatic, Amsterdam.

Rajyashri Goody, Elena Khurtova, Nazif Lopulisa, Vibeke Mascini, Hannah Rowan

The exhibition celebrated the launch of 3 new Mater texts which can all be found here.

Programmed during the show was a reading event with Amanda Pinatih and Musoke Nalwoga, where we discussed preservation in the museum, curation, cotton, heritage, and artefacts that were brought the the Netherlands from Indonesia in colonial times. We also hosted a performance from The World Is a Verb, where Vibeke Mascini and Zazie Stevens read essays about batteries, energy, love and time from each other's t-shirts.

Exhibition Essay

The words “material” and “matter” both derive from the Latin word “materia”, meaning "substance from which something is made". “Materia” is a derivative of the Latin “mater”, meaning “mother”. 

Like its etymological origin, matter flows through forms - constantly shifting between various states of being, its materiality always temporary. Some of these works attempt to grasp the many states and flows of matter, while others highlight matter’s autonomy and energetic properties. Defining materials is ‘slippery’ - they tell us what an artwork is made from, yet due to their elusive behaviour and boundless symbolisms, they are at once generating meaning for us and beyond us.

In this exhibition materials have been sprayed, pulped, rolled, woven, fired.. In many works the medium has been manipulated so as to blur or challenge narratives. Fabric might be a surface on which to tell stories or preserve memories, yet materials are in constant flux. It is in the unstable space that this exhibition sits; how materials can be deeply significant carriers of information, whilst simultaneously in a state of ongoing metamorphosis. 

Some of these surfaces have been imprinted with text, stitch and inkjet, but information has also been removed by water, fire, touch and bleach, or concealed with banana fibres and soil. Hovering between representation and undoing, figurative aspects float in and out of being. Alongside all of these deliberate artistic actions, matter is moving on its own terms, in continuous dialogue with its environment.

The Contributors

Everyday life is brimming with material encounters. Vibeke Mascini’s ‘The world is a verb’ consists of salvaged articles of pre-owned clothing which have been re-imagined by turning them inside out and embroidering them. The t-shirts are walking publications, with new labels sewn into their seams containing miniature essays about the transference of matter, energy, language and memory. Mascini writes that ‘energy exchange takes place in a global chain, within which energetic processes are interconnected and often enough transcend national borders.’ Within the context of Mater, Vibeke presents a new edition of printed labels, which include her own writing as well as texts from invited contributors.

Hannah Rowan’s video essay explores another complex and uncertain matter - ice. Looking at the temporal transformation of materials, the film draws relationships between the human body, geology, and ecological systems. The audio is layered with sounds recorded underwater in Svalbard, which capture the popping of ancient air bubbles escaping from once-frozen ice. It is an audible record of the materiality of the process of metamorphosis. We can witness this transformation with our ears/eyes, but the essay describes how all matter is flowing, even when we can’t immediately see it. Glass is often thought of as static, but Rowan describes how it is: ‘Neither a liquid nor a solid, but somewhere between those two states of matter’. Its ‘atomic structure is disordered like that of a liquid but it is rigid and holds its shape like a solid.’ 

Transformation is vital in the work of artist Rajyashri Goody, whose material is The Manusmriti: an ancient Hindu text which ‘gives sanction to practices of caste and gender-based segregation and Untouchability’. She creates a new material by soaking the pages of the Manusmriti in water until they become pulp. Her work references Dr. Ambedkar who set fire to the Manusmriti in 1927 in an act of protest. Ambedkar’s face traces the surface of Goody’s small, fragile paper porcelain work titled Bhima is Alive Too. The object was kiln fired - destroying the paper pulp but strengthening the clay. In her Mater essay Goody writes, ‘I seem to be stuck, haunted by the ghost of Manu like so many people around me. The pulping is a long, drawn out, repetitive process, attempting to strip the power away from a thing so beyond my own control or strength. And yet I must, and I do, continue to have hope. If Manu’s ghost refuses to die, Ambedkar is alive too’. 

Elena Khutova’s Mater essay ‘Displace’ reflects upon an artist residency she attended in a former isolation pavilion for women at the Montperrin psychiatric hospital. She draws parallels between soil management organisations and asylums, investigating overlapping notions of care and control. We see in this exhibition the balls of soil formed from ‘a handful of soil’ collected in various locations by the artist. On the residency she learnt from the soil by slowly rolling it into spheres, taking her time to adjust to the needs of the material. She used thick cotton hospital bed sheets to wrap and roll the gathered soils. The large spheres remain in the location of the residency, but the sheets still carry residue of the process - a combination of soil and mould. These sheets, ‘Unwrap’ (2023), hold the history of the hospital within them, and the marks left by the actions of the artist upon their surface, and finally the mould that has since formed by nature of the ongoing processes of these materials. 

In her new text for Mater, Curator and Researcher Amanda Pinatih reflects upon materials and objects as carriers of information. Pinatih references artefacts from Indonesia which were brought to the Netherlands during colonial times, writing: ‘Objects can carry memories of historic events, past encounters, people and places within. Surrounding us on an everyday basis, objects can thus give us a strong sense of (un)belonging. Exactly these entanglements between people and the material world is something I wish to unpack.’ Accompanying her new essay for Mater, Pinatih has included the artist Nazif Lopulissa in this exhibition. 

In his work Deformed by Connections, the artist Nazif Lopulissa has inkjet printed two contrasting photographs from colonial history onto canvas: one of Saparua (Indonesia) and another from concentration camp Vught (NL), together they have become a collective memory of events. Of his work Nazif writes: “Like the myths brought through migration, images can be blurred, cut up and sewn back together, each recital making them into something new.” Bleach has been applied in stripes across the image, dissolving the ink it encounters and resulting in the partial removal of the image. The canvas is then hand-woven with banana fibres.