matt lambert is a non-binary, trans multidisciplinary collaborator and co-conspirator working towards equity, inclusion, and reparation. Their practice is based in polydisciplinamory, entangling object making, writing, curating, and performing. lambert is currently a PhD candidate in craft at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts & Design in Stockholm, Sweden. They have published, curated, and exhibited internationally, and their work is collected across the globe. (@matt_lambert_studio)
Hold me as I land
I’m sure you understand …
Now we’re on solid ground
I find it was quicksand …
I had to give myself away
So the wind can teach me what to do again
—Seinabo Sey, “Hold Me As I Land”
I was first introduced to the concept of cruising as a method within artistic research by Alpesh Kantilal Patel when he was an outside mentor during my time in the Critical Craft Studies MA program at Warren Wilson College. It was during this program that I began to see craft beyond its material silos.
The term “cruising” is threaded in multiple ways here. It has connotations to sex, desire, pleasure, wandering, and play. It emphasizes the journey and not the destination. I view cruising within a conversation of material and object-making. I view it as the time spent with material, as the acceptance that the material existed and was in a process before I encountered it, and that after the material leaves my hands it will continue to be: used, worn, held in attempted static perpetuity (via personal or museum collections), or reassembled into another state or form. Cruising is a way of viewing the role of maker as part of a larger process, and breaks with the concept of singular authorship. Instead, makers are participants in larger cycles and systems.
Cruising as a method is in relationship to what Irit Rogoff, theorist and Professor of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, would call a vibration.1 As spoken-word poet Timothy “Speed” Levitch says in the 1998 documentary The Cruise, which follows him on his days as a tour guide through New York City:
I am cruising currently right now, I am cruising because I have dedicated myself to all that is creative and destructive in my life right now, and I’m equally in love with every aspect of my life, and all the ingredients that have caused me turmoil and all the ingredients that have caused me glory. I am the living whispered warning in the Roman general’s ear, “glory is fleeting,” and in that verb, that active verb “fleeting,” there I live, there I reside. I have dedicated myself to the idiom “I don’t know,” and I am in love with the frantic chaos of this limitless chaos of this universe.2
The tour bus from which Levitch launches into a feverish narration, sharing historical facts, songs, poems, humor, and casual conversation, becomes a visualization of the boarding and un-boarding. It is an action that reflects the complexity of New York City—its past, present, and future—and where the passengers and Levitch exist together in a constant state of motion, and how he and the passengers are cruising before and will continue to cruise after they are on the bus.
Cruising manifests in many ways. I see making as a way to think, to push theory and narrative into physicality. In this process, objects are not “the work,” but rather the objects and writing together become material that participates in making the work.
I am locating “the work” within the process: in the assemblage of materials, objects, geographic location, use; the conversations and experiences that lead up to an exhibition or finished object—and how these conversations and use continue beyond. Just as rearranging furniture creates different experiences within a home, the rearrangement of materials, objects, and moments of encounter create space for new meanings and understandings to occur.
This rearrangement can be found in singular objects. Taking objects that once had an obvious function and working with them to either find new possibilities or restate the original function. Gord Peteran’s (@gordpeteran) work Prosthetic takes a chair that has lost its function to support a human body through damage or excessive wear and crafted a prosthetic that unobtrusively holds the previous function of the chair by creating a removable brace. Peteran’s prosthetic seat is reliant on the chair’s structure to maintain functionality while making viewers and potential users acutely aware of the chair’s function, its chair-ness.
Peteran’s Early Table uses segments of collected branches, bound by string, to form a table. The work makes us reconsider wood as a common material by shifting from milled wood to its pre-industrially processed form, with bark and irregularities intact. Through this simple material shift, the object offers reflection by drawing our attention to what a table is, and what it is for. Peteran is still processing the wood through his intervention, but has chosen to do so in a fashion that is not typically expected in Western traditions of functional wood furniture.
Artist Liana Pattihis (@lianapattihis) uses damaged and discarded porcelain objects in her work. She further breaks down the fragments, then works in a dialogue with the shards to reconfigure them, creating new forms or assemblages. Pattihis’s process references Kintsugi, a Japanese mending process wherein gold is used to highlight the repair lines of a broken vessel while restoring its function. Pattihis joins vessel shards with chain to create wearable forms. Once Pattihis takes an object—the vessel—and turns it into a “thing,” the shards then create a new object.
Bill Brown unpacks the concept of a “thing” in his 2001 essay “Thing Theory,” which has evolved into a two-part, edited compilation of contributed essays.3
“Thing Theory” takes, for example, a door knob, an object most of us use daily and something we don’t often think about. It is the kind of object that we are usually only made hyperaware of when its expected function stops or breaks. The breaking, or when its function for the user is lost, causes it to become a thing. The object’s thing-ness is created by the removal of its usual function for the user.
Thing-ness, I would also pose, occurs when we encounter something of which we do not know its function. Found objects as material become of particular interest when thinking about thing-ness. For me, “found object” is a divisive term. What is an unfound object? What parameters qualify something as found? Secondhand stores ask us to pay for objects made from “raw” materials that have gone through many steps of being processed, refined, and manipulated to reach a purchase-ready state. There is no escaping a material that isn’t already in a process, already cruising. We decenter the human as author when we actualize the organic processes along with human interventions as part of material cycles. Thing-ness is only in relation to the individual. When we cruise with these encountered things we cycle with them in search of use.
Elizabeth Shaw (@lizshawjewelleryobjects) made the decision to convert a plot of land, turn over the soil, and plant seeds that would produce something to nourish the body. A process planned with intentional labor and tending. What Shaw was not prepared for in the process was to encounter a small piece of metal with few clues of its previous function. A partially formed or eroded object that seemed out of place in the earth. What is commonly called a found object.
Shaw engages with the fragments that she encounters in the garden, on the street, or that are passed to her by those who know her work. She constructs scaffolding and braces for these objects, a way to animate them, sometimes referring to their assumed previous state and at other times pushing them into unexpected forms and implied uses.
I see craft as a process in motion. One in which we join as makers. We jump onto something already moving, just as a tourist jumps onto a tour bus mid-route. We ride on this process until we desire to get off. This point of departure could be thought of as the moment we consider something “done.” The works of Peteran, Pattihis, and Shaw grapple with aspects of process in motion. For Peteran, it is the motion of his encounter with an object or material that highlights their essential qualities—the “chair-ness” or “table-ness” in these examples. Through reconfiguration of a physical form Pattihis highlights the multifariousness of functional and nonfunctional: to hold (liquid) or to hold onto (a body). Shaw grapples with the encounter of materiality, cycling with it to search for function, choosing to imagine how something possibly existed before encountering or conceptualizing new functions.
The ride is a cruise, and even though we may stop on a mutual path, ourselves and what we make continue to move. Move on to other work, to be used, to break, and to be remade. As Simon Ofield states regarding approaching cruising as research (and I would include it in making): “You can never be quite sure if you will find what you are looking for, or if you will come across something you never knew you wanted, or even knew existed.”4
Objects are bought and sold, worn and used. Our hands continue on to other movements. Each encounter with material becomes a conversation. A negotiation between body and substrate in search of something. How invasive are we to be? To cut? To file? Do we meddle with a material or accept it as it exists when we encounter it?
Cruising is a way of approaching making that decenters the individual author. It connects us with systems and challenges mastery and control. Nothing in this thinking is held in perpetuity, and we are reminded that we are all part of something larger.
1. Irit Rogoff, “Irit Rogoff: Becoming Research,” Sonic Acts Festival 2019: Hereafter, February 22, 2019, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, YouTube video, 30:38, uploaded April 3, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3AcgQoGaSU.↩
2. Timothy “Speed” Levitch, The Cruise, documentary directed by Bennet Miller, Artisan Entertainment, 1998, 1:11:57.↩
3. Bill Brown, ed., Things (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Bill Brown, Other Things (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019). 4 Simon Ofield, “Cruising the Archive,” Journal of Visual Culture 4, no. 3 (2005): 357, https://doi.org/10.1177/1470412905058353.↩
4. Simon Ofield, “Cruising the Archive,” Journal of Visual Culture 4, no. 3 (2005): 357, https://doi.org/10.1177/1470412905058353.↩