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soft control

behavioral matter & the art of replicability

Ana Piñeyro & Joffrey Becker - November 09, 2023

the original language of this article is English

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Intertwining the work of designer Ana Piñeyro and anthropologist Joffrey Becker, this essay presents an archeology of the processes involved in the transformation of matter and the manifestation of its behavior.

Renewed attitudes toward matter, as framed within the philosophical stances of the new materialisms (e.g., De Landa 1997; Braidotti 2000; Barad 2003), have prompted researchers and designers to explore the performance and behavior of materials by tapping into their inherent morphogenetic and self-organizing capacities (Leach 2017; Menges 2006). Designer Ana Piñeyro follows this path. Building on the introduction of heat-responsive, twisted, and coiled polymeric actuators in the field of material science (Haines et al. 2014), her research explores the emergence of filament forms and their associated shape-change behavior in response to heat, with the aim of broadening available opportunities to design with active flexible materials in the field of textiles (Piñeyro 2020).

Engaging in spontaneous, hands-on dialogue with the material as a means to expand the creative space (Piñeyro 2019) calls for a subsequent formalization of arising material transformations in order to enable their further application, thus raising the epistemological issue of the replicability of results (Popper 1959). As a condition of scientific knowledge, replicability invites the consideration of the performative aspects of practice and thus addresses its contingency in a reflexive manner (Pickering 1995). To this end, we provide insights on the search for replicable outcomes by bringing together the fields of arts and design with that of the anthropology of techniques.

The reflexive work we present raises questions on least at two levels traditionally linked to two very distinct epistemic cultures (Knorr-Cetina 1999). Arts and social anthropology have an ambiguous relationship with replication, a notion that has raised issues in both arts (Debord 1994; Benjamin 1969) and sciences (Baker 2016). The scope of our contribution goes beyond this ambiguity. It extends to the search for the very conditions of replicability by paying particular attention to the parameters that can make it operational in a given context by considering the various operations required in its achievement in a reflexive manner. In doing so, we reflect on the role of the formal diversity that arises from variations that permeate the making process, identifying their influence on the material’s aesthetic and expressive qualities.

What steps are required to achieve replicable results? What forms of tinkering and what means are used to learn about and document processes that reveal the aesthetic and expressive potentials of materials? How does the milieu influence the outcomes of practice?

A multidisciplinary dialogue between textile and material design practice and the anthropology of techniques contextualizes prerecorded visuals to reflect on the influence of the flowing negotiation between material, environment, and practitioner on the outcomes of material transformation processes. This is what we regard as a soft form of control. Setting off from the notion of the recipe, we consider the chains of operation and sequences of actions (Leroi-Gourhan 1993; Lemonnier 1992; Sellet 1993; Coupaye 2009) involved in understanding material behavior, focusing on the ways in which the former are shaped through the sensory experience of matter.


authors: Ana Piñeyro and Joffrey Becker

visual designer: Ana Piñeyro

sound designer: Joffrey Becker

editorial mediation: Joffrey Becker

dialogue recording: Christian Phaure, École des Arts Décoratifs

financial support: La Chaire Beauté·s PSL – L’Oréal

acknowledgments: Gwenaëlle Lallemand; Samuel Bianchini; La Chaire arts et sciences, of the École polytechnique de l’École des Arts Décoratifs – Université PSL and the Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso.

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Image Credits: Ana Piñeyro. Reproduced with authorization in 2023.

bibliography and references

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Baker, Monya. 2016. “1500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility.” Nature 533, 452–454.

Barad, Karen. 2003. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, no. 3: 801–831,

Benjamin, Walter. 1969. Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books.

Braidotti, Rosi. 2000. “Teratologies.” In Deleuze and Feminist Theory, edited by Ian Buchanan and Claire Colebrook, 156–172. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Coupaye, Ludovic. 2009. “Ways of Enchanting: Chaînes Opératoires and Yam Cultivation in Nyamikum Village, Maprik, Papua New Guinea.” Journal of Material Culture 14, no. 4: 433–458.

Debord, Guy. 1994. The Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books.

De Landa, Manuel. 1997. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. New York: Zone Books.

Haines, Carter S., Márcio D. Lima, Na Li, Geoffrey M. Spinks, Javad Foroughi, John D. W. Madden, Shi Hyeong Kim, et al. 2014. “Artificial Muscles from Fishing Line and Sewing Thread.” Science 343, no. 6173: 868–872,

Knorr-Cetina, Karin. 1999. Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Leach, Neil. 2017. “Matter Matters: A Philosophical Preface.” In Active Matter, edited by Skylar Tibbits, 18–23. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lemonnier, Pierre. 1992. Elements for an Anthropology of Technology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Leroi-Gourhan, André. 1993. Gesture and Speech. Translated by Anna Bostock Berger. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Menges, Achim. 2006. “Polymorphism.” Architectural Design 76, no. 2: 78–87,

Pickering, Andrew. 1995. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Piñeyro, Ana. 2019. “Kinetic Morphologies. Revealing Opportunity from Mistake.” Supplement, The Design Journal, no. 22, no. S1: 1871–1882,

Piñeyro, Ana. 2020. “Animating matter: A material-led exploration into the kinetic potential of nylon monofilament.” PhD thesis, Royal College of Art, London.

Popper, Karl. 1959. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Routledge.

Sellet, Frédéric. 1993. “Chaine Operatoire: The Concept and Its Applications.” Lithic Technology 18, nos. 1–2: 106–112.

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This article uses Chicago format for its references

Piñeyro, Ana and Joffrey Becker. 2023. “Soft Control: behavioral matter & the art of replicability.”.able journal

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