Thinking/Creating with Active Materials

What Affordance Affords?

Karmen Franinovic’s lecture about material affordances in creative processes


3-day Conference organized by the Genesis and Ontology of Technoscientific Objects project Alfred Nordmann, Astrid Schwarz and Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent.

Karmen Franinović was invited to talk about material affordances in creative processes.


Affordance Choreographies: What does a material want?

Abstract: In this paper I will reconsider the idea of agency and affordance by engaging with current discourses on agency and my practice-based research on responsive materials. The materials I work with, often labeled “smart”, have been developed with the purpose of efficiency and functionality. My group has been inventing new processes of working with such materials, in order to take them outside of scientific laboratories. The goal is to enable new ideas and expressions of which these materials are capable of. By opening up alternative paths for matter, we let them flow and leak into the world, not knowing what they will be becoming. As Tim Ingold writes ‘things move and grow because they are alive, not because they have agency’. Indeed, responsive and transient materials reveal agency as temporally emergent and potentially useless if the idea of activity and life is introduced. Through hands-on experiments with materials, we follow what they afford instead of trying to impose ideas on matter by controlling their physical properties. In this process, we discover hidden affordances, and then choreograph them so to enable the flow of activity through them. This seems to also shift Gibson’s idea of affordance as static and pertaining to objects – in the creative process of following material; our own affordances begin to emerge. We are matter after all…


Ingold, T. (2010). “Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials”. Working Paper No. 15, Realities, ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, University of Manchester. pp. 7.

Gibson, J. J. (2010) “The Ecological Approach for Visual Perception”, New Jersay 1979, pp.130–135, 142–143.