Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Material Forms: What Is Really Going on? Shaping Who We Are and What We Do

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Material Forms: What Is Really Going on? Shaping Who We Are and What We Do

Article excerpt

She emptied his pockets of their miscellaneous contents: item, an ink-stained handkerchief; item, come bait; item, a few lozenges stuck together with fluff All these she threw on the floor; the rest of the hoard, consisting of a miniature hand in ivory, a marble, the cap of a fountain-pen, she deposited in one of the drawers of the wardrobe.  Here was the treasure, a treasure impossible to describe because the miscellaneous objects in the drawer had been so far stripped of their original function, so charged with symbolism, that what remained looked merely like old junk-empty aspirin bottles, metal rings, keys, curling-pins; all worthless rubbish, save to the eye of the initiate. (Cocteau, 2011 [1929]: 24)  ...But a dull evil has remained with me. I know what a well of being is. ...I must admit that the well of my greatest terrors was always the well of my goose game. 

All That I Can Tell From Here

Like patting the walls for a light switch, I am stumped. Choosing to write about a little boy named George, I am reminded of my own early years of glum shadows and dark furniture like the living room carpet, a faded navy blue in an oriental pattern, and coarse like horsehair. Should I continue? The past can be measureless and hazy. I retrieve stories of my childhood. I have souvenirs. Materials that survived these years, what I held onto were untouched in my closet for many years. There was a souvenir box of seashells my grandmother bought for me at a beach store. I was not on this trip, but I loved this thin yellow box that had a tiny seahorse, thumb sized ochre sea sponge, glowing baby pearl, starfish, scallop shell. These marine curios were affixed inside the box and given the title Wonders of the Sea. Across the lid I wrote my name, address and phone number and the title My Shells in my best cursive. Other buried gems of childhood was my Brownie Scout embroidered badges sewn onto a sash like tiny stories.

This research uses visual ethnographic methods to focus on materiality and memories of childhood. As a researcher, I see materiality defined as what connects us, the stuff of the world that conveys a particular sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. I find the nature of materiality porous, allowing the child's uniqueness to be seen in their interactions between the materials and the child's self-determined meaning. Materiality has such sensory qualities. When I discovered Sarah Pink's book Doing Sensory Ethnography Second Edition (2015), I had found a means to sort through material evidence. I began wondering about the relationship between materials and childhood.

The materiality connecting my remembered childhood and the art making of the children is in the "mundane" (Miller, 1987, p. 41), or rather found in the day-to-day. As a preschool art teacher I saw a little boy, George, select scraps, corks, buttons, yarn, drawing papers, tiny cardboard boxes to construct an imaginary world. As a child, I, too, used my imagination to juxtapose fragments of my life to create tiny semblances of a bigger world. Could George's miniature worlds be connected to own embodied past? Material fluctuates and embodies "social constructions, cognitions, scientific attitudes and ethical attitudes" (Iovino & Opperman, 2014, p. 5). This amalgamation of self and material is the source of life's narratives (Iovina & Opperman, 2014). Abram (2010) writes in a similar way about this idea, that the world's imagination is an "ever-unfolding story" embedding "our variously sensitive bodies" (pp. 270- 272). I found the scholarship of research interwoven with the sensuous.

Self-Portrait on a Sack

Beginning the fall of my kindergarten year and every year until I was 12, I was measured and given a new pair of burgundy leather school shoes. My mother picked these shoes out. They had perforated toes and two leather straps that crossed the bridge of my foot. There were brass buckles--two on each shoe that allowed for adjustments. …

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