2015 May 11
Round Table
Display #1


Statement by Matt Edgeworth

It was quite amazing to find that, in participating in the roundtable discussion on ‘Mensch Macht Natur’ (Humans Make Nature) at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, we were also helping to make a work of art. In preparation for the event, the floor of the entire room had been tiled with an unusual polystyrene-like or soft plastic material by members of the Landschaftskunst department. The surface was hard enough to support the weight of the assembled gathering yet soft enough to record all our footprints.It was a bit like traversing the surface of deep snow with snowshoes on, not sinking in because one’s weight is distributed. Chair legs, on the other hand, tended to go straight through, literally punching holes as soon as the concentrated weight of a person bore down via four thin points.

The floor made us strangely aware of our movements around the room, and aware also of the floor itself, which normally rarely figures in our consciousness, being just ‘there’ in the background and almost completely taken for granted.

In becoming conscious of the floor, one inevitably became fascinated in the marks one’s own feet are leaving on it. Soles of our shoes are rarely seen when looking in a mirror. Here was another kind of mirror that could actually be walked on, reflecting our rarely-glimpsed ‘undersides’. Yet there were a series of time delays with regard to how our presence was reflected. The traces of others were still there alongside mine in the mirror even if when they had moved away. Thinking of the floor as a mirror of sorts, I wondered how long the reflections would remain. Would they disappear gradually over time as the compressed material decompressed, releasing the reflections?

Despite its calls on our attention the floor did fade into the background, as we became more and more absorbed in the fascinating subjects under discussion. It was probably at the very edge of our awareness, somewhere in peripheral vision, but we were largely concentrating on other things. Our eye-level gaze was mainly horizontal, looking at people’s faces or presentation slides, relative to the upward stance of our bodies. While sitting, we might look down as far as the notes on our lap but not as far as our feet or beyond. Admittedly our posture was supported by the floor, but we started to take it for granted again.

There was surprising depth to this two- dimensional surface – a palimpsest of footprint upon footprint upon footprint, all at different angles. One could follow some of these paths (while trying not to attract too much attention of course).

At any rate, it was impossible to consider the patterns on the floor from a completely detached point of view, since as observers we were manifestly making some of the very marks under observation. No sequence of prints was so deeply layered that one could not add one’s own print on top of it. Here perhaps is a direct parallel to the ‘footprint’ of human beings on the Earth’s surface under discussion during the roundtable. The layer of humanly-modified ground referred to in my talk (the archaeosphere, or Eduard Suess’s ‘Schuttedecke’ in Vienna), is something more than just a deposit laid down by others in the past. It is still growing, still in the process of formation. We ourselves are agents in the deposition of it.

Statement by Matt Edgeworth, speaker at Humans make Nature