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221A Artist Run Centre

Contemporary Art Gallery

Douglas Coupland



Origami Club


Vancouver School of Theology

van × year

WTF Affect


Mathew Arthur


Metaphysics of Design or Designing Metaphysics?

I am a designer and web application developer in Vancouver, Canada. For more than 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. My work is animated by the material histories and affectivities 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—and 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?” (gods, humans, fungi, quarks?) and “how does this making make the world?” I am a graduate student at Vancouver School of Theology in the Indigenous and Interreligious Studies (IIS) program and co-editor-in-chief of Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry. 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 make are multiple and divergent. 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 nonhuman resources and agencies. 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 design, of doings or agencies (“what or who can do and how?”) and of self-determination (“what gets to be who?” and “what can or cannot be done?”). 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 and 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 as a mode of world-making in which humans, animals, plants, hydrological and geologic forces, and “things” have designs on the world, too.

[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.



“Spirited Words: Writing Affect and Theology in Indigenous Futurescapes,” in Affectivity and Divinity: Affect Theories and Theologies, eds. Karen Bray and Stephen Moore, (New York: Fordham University Press, forthcoming 2017).

With Gregory J. Seigworth, “Patternings and Practices, or, Love through Indigenous Futurisms,” in A Networked Self: Love, ed. Zizi Papacharissi, (London: Routledge, forthcoming 2018).



“Doing Multispecies Rituals,” paper presented at “Unravelling Religion 4: Bodies and Objects,” Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, 2017.

With Reuben Jentink, “Composting Settler Nationalism,” paper presented at “Mikinaakominis/TransCanadas: Literature, Justice, Relation,” University of Toronto, Ontario, 2017.

“Path Dependence: Affect, Practice, and Indigenous Self-Determination,” paper presented at the Fifteenth Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium, Drew Theological School, Madison, New Jersey, 2016.



“All Our Relations: Forms of Radical Relationality for Re-imagining God and the World (TH855),” teaching assistant to Dr. Sallie McFague, Vancouver School of Theology, 2016.

“Re-Imagining God and the World (TH855),” teaching assistant to Dr. Sallie McFague, Vancouver School of Theology, 2015.

Recent Work

Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry is an open access, peer-reviewed international journal. The principal aim of Capacious is to “make room” for a wide diversity of approaches and emerging voices to engage with ongoing conversations in and around affect studies. Capacious endeavours to promote diverse bloom-spaces for affect’s study over the dulling hum of any specific orthodoxy.

WTF Affect is an online knowledge sharing platform for texts, videos, interviews, aesthetic and evocative juxtapositions, and news surrounding affect-related work. The platform coalesces around (and extends) work emerging from the 2015 conference “Affect Theory: Worldings, Tensions, Futures” at Millersville University in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

More Work


van × year in #51 in Interior Design Magazine’s 100 Big Ideas Issue.


What is Theology?

What is Theology?

Folding-Together a World

Playing Animateur

Playing Animateur

Identity, Intervention, and the Non-Human

Spirited Matter

Spirited Matter

Animism(s), Indigenous Resurgence, and Ecotheology

Twelve Step

Twelve Step

Object-Oriented Prose