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221A Artist Run Centre

Contemporary Art Gallery

Douglas Coupland

K-POP

Microcos(ms)

Origami Club

Symbioses

Vancouver School of Theology

van × year


Mathew Arthur

Design/Work






Metaphysics of Design or Designing Metaphysics?

I am a (queer) designer and web application developer in Vancouver, Canada. For almost a decade, I have worked in design-related disciplines at an array of scales—from printed matter to high-rise buildings—with a miscellany of material and virtual media. My clients include contemporary artists, designers, and arts-centered institutions. As a designer, I am also a translator: to make an intention comprehensible, I encode, decode, and “do” data and sensory cues. My work is animated by the material histories of “things” (a matchbox has been pigment, glue, red phosphorus, a forest) and the ideas, feelings, and “doings” that things provoke (a matchbox feels warm, means “safety,” requires global networks of trade, can spark violence). Making is a practice of shaping matter and meaning; design makes values material. Recently, I have landed on the discipline of theology as an exuberant and dangerous “home” from which to ask two questions of design: “who makes?” or what agency is “in” design (that of gods, humans, fungi, quarks?) and “is there a design, overall?” —which is a question of determination contra self-determination. I am a graduate student at Vancouver School of Theology, in the Indigenous and Interreligious Studies (IIS) program. My curriculum vitae is heterogenous, colourful; I am always interested in collaborative digital/theoretical work and I welcome correspondence.

The practice of design is as much a project of knowledge production as it is a material labour and, accordingly, the politics of design are twofold: the media of design (pulp, ink, microchips, or rare earth metals) arrive at a cost and the meanings they trigger are open to divergent or conflicting interpretations. A website, for example, is never just lines of code, it sits precariously on a power grid, in a server farm, on economies of scale, on the backs of ditch-diggers and bleary-eyed support technicians. A website is the folding-together of needs, desires, possibilities, programming languages, and human and “natural” resources. One might wonder, “just who (or what) is doing the design, here?” Philosopher of design, Anne-Marie Willis, proposes design as a subject-decentred practice in which “things as well as people design.”[1]

Central to my theological, philosophical, and political project are questions of doing or agency (“what or who can do and how?”) and determination (“what can or cannot be done?” and “are there origins, causes, purposes, endings?”). I contend that any appeal to “design from the outside” (theology, transcendence) or “design from the inside” (natural selection; genetic, social, or technological determinism; reductive physicalism) is a sleight of hand, a trick of conjuring power. To fix the location of design is to lay partial claim to the agency, the material and affective power, of anything and everything not-human or, worse, not-divine; to fix the location of design is to halt a possible future. As a subject-decentred practice, design is a politics of the possible. Taking up design as the production of knowledges and material practices (scientific, religious, and Indigenous), my writing aims to open up futures to creative redescription by imagining theology, too, as a politics of the possible.


[1]  Anne-Marie Willis, “Ontological Designing: Laying the Ground,” Design Philosophy Papers: Collection Three, ed. Anne-Marie Willis, (Crows Nest, Qld.: Team D/E/S Publications, 2007), 81.



Writing

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What is Theology?

What is Theology?

Folding-Together a World

When I was ten years old, I discovered origami; a six-inch square sheet could become a crane, an empty box, an iris, or a crumpled false start. My friend Yumiko would send a parcel each Oshōgatsu (Japanese New Year) comprised of cellophane­ wrapped sheaths of paper. I would unwrap each bundle and lay out a kaleidoscope grid of patterned sheets, covering my bedroom floor, admiring each square as if it were an artifact poised to yield some secret.

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Playing Animateur

Playing Animateur

Identity, Intervention, and the Non-Human

Another equally defensible title for the digital imaginary or world accompanying this text might be Rituals for the Anthropocene. Daily, our screens flood with news of foreboding anthropogenic climatic shifts and species extinction, urban sprawl, decay, and corporate development, massive-scale resource extraction projects or protests, and technoscientific machinations contrived to clean up the mess we’ve made. The central aim of this inquiry is to ask, “what does ritual have to do with it?”; how might ritual intervene in the mess and possibility of worlds to come?

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Spirited Matter

Spirited Matter

Animism(s), Indigenous Resurgence, and Ecotheology

What does it mean to do theology in this place, on this land, at this time? My title has three components, animism or rather animisms (more than one), Indigenous resurgence, and ecotheology. Implied in the “eco” is the most pressing matter of our time: climate change. Given Eurochristian complicity in colonial endeavours and versions of dominion theology which pay little attention to non-humans, plant, animal, and geological beings, these three elements are often in tension.

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Twelve Step

Twelve Step

Object-Oriented Prose

We develop a naming convention for each part of the topography so that we might feel a sense of mutuality, making the object seem less foreign. The new language we are creating allows us to fully understand the scope of the object, to situate its extents in three-dimensional space. We secretly wish we could craft the object into human form, take this form inside ourselves, and welcome it as our missing piece.