2. Materiality


At its simplest, materiality can be understood as a feature or attribute of physical objects being physically tangible substances, like ice, stone or concrete. Materiality can also be understood as material thinking, thinking about our practical relationship with the material surrounding us (see Bolt 2012, Mäkiranta & Timonen 2015). Materiality is also affiliated with the material imagination. Pauline von Bondsdorff (2010, 145–161) has applied Gaston Bachelard’s (1957) concept of the imagination of the matter to the Reima Pietilä’s architecture. The imagination of the matter rests on the physical experience of the material as it appears in the work. Material processing is both working with the matter and working on the matter—co-operation and resistance. The imagination of the matter emphasises the physical and quiet—often unthematised—experiences. The matter imagines in us (Bondsdorff 2010, 149).

In this article, materiality is a fluid concept connected to the understanding of art as processes. The Australian philosopher Elizabeth Grosz (2010) has found that, although we see the world as firmly composed by integral things and objects, beneath this solid surface, there is a continuous movement of the material—the smoothness orsupplenessof the world. The suppleness appears as movement, vibration and change (Grosz 2010, 150–151).

A simple example in my case is the constant movement processes of the ice. According to its temperature, ice takes the form of water, water vapour and solid ice. It is also constantly moving, raining down to the ground and being transported rivers to the sea. In addition, ice-related materiality is closely related to culture: Although ice has its origins as a natural phenomenon, the materiality of ice is not isolated from the symbols of the culture; rather, the material and symbols are inseparably intertwined and form a culture (Lehtonen 2014). Thus, we can see several constantly changing processes in ice.

Working with ice requires being aware of the different material dimensions of ice and how the meanings and materials are interweaved. In my case, the ice appears in the photographing process as a physical material, as a manufacturing material and as material presentations.




Eija Timonen, Floating Mountains, 2016

The Layered Materiality

Jukka-Pekka Timonen, Eija Timonen on and with ice 2016

Ice as a physical material

Ice as physical material is formless, massive and impersonal. It is not made up of identifiable elements. In contrast, it is characterised by relatively strong variations of state, the changes from hard and solid material to flowing water, and further, to disappearing water vapour. In the early winter, ice is often brittle and does not necessarily carry the traveller. The interplay of ice and water is unpredictable at these times. Later, the ice becomes thicker and more integral. After some months, the transparency has mostly disappeared, and what is left is essentially a cloudy white mass. However, the surface is not flat. The currents, wind and the speed of freezing affect the formation of the surface. When the spring comes, the ice becomes thinner, sludges, becomes more cellular until it melts away quickly—almost in front of the viewer’s eyes—to become water again. As a result of a specific freezing process, ice is glassy. Ice and water are both natural lenses, whereas camera lenses are human products. The ice lens breaks down and solidifies again according to the season. Water and ice as objects of shooting and as optical mediums that carry properties of lenses are inextricably intertwined in my photography. However, the more one examines ice as a physical target material, the more distant the relationship with it becomes. Ice becomes a part of an almost unknown, technical and formalistic world without any connections with the aesthetics or meanings that we carry inside. Thus, from the perspective of an artist, ice can hardly be understood as just being outside stuff. From an aesthetic point of view, ice is related to its different roles, as seen in ice as a manufacturing material and ice in material presentations.

Ice as a manufacturing material



Ice as a manufacturing material includes the raw material proper and the tools by which it is to be handled. I manipulate ice using shovels, brushes and ploughs for shooting. For shooting, I need my cameras, light systems, tripods and objects. I also saw the blocks of ice in my icebox for photographing later in the summertime in my ice studio (see www.eijatimonen.com). The tools, working methods and ice as manufacturing material are intertwined. My knowledge of ice shooting comprises knowing how to read weather conditions and camera information. It involves information about the composition of snow, the amount and direction of light and wind and the effects of cold on the body and camera. It also consists of my memories—what happened last autumn when the first gusts of true coldness came. This is how ice as a manufacturing material is connected to the aesthetically oriented detection of the environment. The material thinking is tied to the union of hand, eye and mind of the movement (Carter 2004) and to the working processes.

Ice as material presentations


Cultural meanings guide the artistic work with ice. The object, tools, mediator and interpreter form one process of creating an aesthetic message (see Timonen 2014, 189–191). The archaeologist Visa Immonen (2016, 200) has argued that, in material objects, non-human and human aspects and their multi-temporal existence are present at the same time. He calls this ‘messy materiality’. In my view, messy materiality especially appears in the material presentations of ice. Material presentations mean those materials in which the work is materialised. In digital art, the manufacturing and presentation technologies are intertwined into a single continuum.


When I navigate on a vast, frozen lake, I understand my situation and relationship to the surroundings—ice ‘speaks’ to me by its materiality and the mental images connected to it. The imagination of the matterand the cultural storage of stories are inextricably interwoven, as occurs for ice as material in the nature and as manufacturing material for artistic work, and finally, as fixed in artistic presentations. Various forms of materiality are tightly intertwined and guide the observation and interpretation of ice. The ice may be used as a kaleidoscope in which we find images with culturally shared meanings and images with the viewer’s momentary mental images. The rotation of images, their sliding to the front and back of each other, at the same time expresses the layered materiality of ice, where the conceptions of ice as physical and manufacturing material and in material presentations have melted together. Material and culture, nonhuman and human are inextricably intertwined.