Political materiality of everyday objects

material

riopan

By Yannis Kallianos (CRESC, University of Manchester)

My presentation is structured around two quite similar objects and focuses on the political context through which their materiality transforms. What is of interest to me is the ways in which this transformation takes places via an event that makes possible a radically different interpretation and re-articulation of the object. At the same time this transformation changes altogether not only the usage of the object but also it alters the set of relations that produce its meaning in this context.

Maalox and Riopan (Magaldrate) are antacids and are used to neutralize and reduce stomach acid relieving heartburn and indigestion. However, during protests and demonstrations maalox and riopan acquire a different more dynamic and thus, collective usage. Maalox (liquid) is mixed with water to produce a spray that cools the burning caused by tear gas.
Riopan, on the other hand, is in a gel form and it is applied on the face in order to also counter-balance tear gas effects. What is of issue here is that during these moments these objects have a different usage/function than the one that they were made for originally. Their mundane (medical) practise is replaced by an eventful operation. What this means is that this transformation is only possible when an event (tear gas use by police forces) occurs. In this regard, this transformation problematizes the idea that there is a solid separation between everyday life and the event. These objects act as sites that both divide and connect the processes that both constitute the mundane and the event. Their materiality consists of this ambivalence. Let us consider that even though their substances are not transformed their materiality is re-contextualized and thus, they can be re-employed as entirely new objects.

This functional transformation is supported by another more significant change. It is not only their function that changes, but also, in the process the productive labour that ascribes meaning to this function transforms. From objects of individual usage they become objects that both entail and constitute collective practice. Collective labour is an essential feature of the way these objects are used at times of protests and demonstrations.

Overall, this short presentation is an invitation to consider the transformative materiality of these everyday objects as processes that reflect a wider socio-cultural and political change.