Work in Progress

Materials as a Journey

Since the last blog post I have been studying how human interactions influence materials, surfaces and objects over time.






























These interactions whether small or big, deliberate or indeliberate, over time or all at once, old or recent all tell a story of human interaction. Perhaps it was Jacob’s first grind, or the time Lucy dropped a crate on the grating. Every mark, scratch and sign of wear tells of an event, memories known only to the object itself. Think of the stories they could tell if only they could speak.


Thus it may seem materials are more than characteristics, price tags and chemical structures in which they are categorised; no materials are a journey. Take steel for example. Iron is created during a supernova at the end of the life of a red giant. It is expelled into space along with other elements before collapsing under the force of gravity to form the sun. The remaining material including some iron begin to clump together under their own gravitational force to form proto-planets, including Earth. This iron embedded into the rock and suspended in the ocean reacted with other elements to form hydroxides, sulphates and more. However 2.8 billion years ago the emergence of oxygen producing cyanobacteria and halobacteria allowed those hydroxides and sulphates to be displaced to form iron oxide, forming layers of iron rich sediment. Ancient seas would disappear to allow humans, eons later to mine the iron ore. From there together with coke and lime the ore is processed into pure iron. Oxygen is then blown into molten pig iron to form steel. Steel from which we use to build our buildings with, go to work with, eat our food with… without for a second paying appreciation for it’s celestial origins.


As an initial experiment I took a computer keyboard painted it bright orange and painted removable chalk paint on top. The idea is over time different users’ iterations will wear away at the keys differently, thereby mapping their usage, preferences, profession… and more. Through the scope of wear the keyboard can speak and tell of those stories we do not even think about in our daily lives. However, I have found the chalk material to be too difficult to work with, they crack and require several coats at which point hey become too thick. Furthermore, the chalk paint hides the key symbols. After some research into materials such as thermochromic paint which changes based on body heat, I found printable temporary tattoo film to serve this function perfectly.


First however, I needed to test the feasibility to see whether usage actually does vary based on use case. Below are two heatmaps of my keystrokes on two different days. On the first one I was using Photoshop extensively thus the Alt (for navigation and shortcuts) and Ctrl (I was doing a lot of clone-stamping) keys were used the most, on the second one the alphabet keys were used the most due to writing a lot of text. This kind of deviation in usage could possibly represent the difference between a graphic designer and a historian for instance.










I envision making a number of these wear away keyboards to send out as probes after which usage patterns of different groups such as: designers, business-people, accountants can be mapped and used to draw certain insights. From which there are many totally different avenues I can think of to take, but I am completely lost at the moment.