Don't take any guff from stuff.
Fred Scharmen

A Matter Battle is the conflict between human intentions and the laws and behaviors of the physical universe. One enters a Matter Battle when there is an attempt to execute the desires of the mind in any medium of physical matter. Any act of construction (such as building a building) is a good example of a Matter Battle. To lesser degrees, reaching for something on a high shelf, baking a pie, and drawing a line also qualify as Matter Battles. Material acts that are without intention or where intention is purposefully exploratory, such as drip painting, are not Matter Battles.

Matter Does Not Have Undo

Matter Battles generally involve actions for which undo costs a lot of time, money, or both, because to undo is to redo. This is because matter tends to exhibit characteristics such as: heaviness, largeness, crumbliness, and unwieldiness. In most cases matter is not self-healing and does not have a native ability to regenerate, therefore resulting in a situation where mistakes usually turn a piece of matter into scrap.

Matter Does Not Share Space

Matter is mutually exclusive. One bit of matter generally cannot exist in the exact same place as another bit of matter. Therefore, decisions have to be made about which bit of matter occupies space and how other bits of matter take a subsidiary position. This is tricky when mapping abstract concepts such as a grid of overlapping lines onto the physical world. Three dimensional things do not easily overlap.

The Behavior of Matter is Hard to Fully Predict

Most of the time it will be too expensive to fully predict the behavior of matter or the full extent of actions required to execute your desires upon matter. This explains the difference in tolerance between industrial activities, such as product-making, which rely on repetitive processes, and more singular activities such as building a building. Unless one has the time and money to laboriously fixate on material decisions, there will be some flying by the seat of one's pants. In certain complex piles of matter these ad-hoc decisions may compound to produce undesirable effects.

Matter Battles Are Always Low Tech

Because Matter Battles are ultimately about the inescapability of physical laws, they constantly remind us that no matter how high tech your implements, there is always room for basic failure. Robots fall down. 3D printers get their nozzles gunked up. Laser cutters burn their lenses. And CNC machines still require raw material to be roughly screwed into place before it is worked on. High tech tools always have low tech components somewhere in their workflow.

Matter Battles Are Hard to Understand Until You are in One

You may very well be so used to working, perhaps even living, in the digital that the Matter Battle described seems overhyped. This is because we've tricked ourselves into thinking that we have mastered the material world. And to some extent we have. We've been to the bottom of the ocean and the top of the heavens, and yet putting things together (or taking them apart) rarely goes exactly according to plan.


2011. Revised 2019.

Bryan Boyer, Partner at Dash Marshall

Poster & TpRawKost typeface:

Poster Photography:
Douglas Pearce