The real and the imitation

Today’s post — The Truth About Materials — over at A Public Sketchbook is largely a follow up to my Autumn post Entropy, patina and the built environment. From the Sketchbook’s entry:

    The predominance of vision has effected the way we think about materials. As more and more communities employ “stampcrete” and if they can’t afford that, “stamphalt” in public spaces, the erosion of values is painfully obvious. The attitude of ”as long as that stuff looks like brick, it’s OK ” is exactly what got the ponzi scheme victims into trouble. Actually all the use of fake materials is sort of like a ponzi scheme–you simply put the day of reckoning off until the whole thing fails and at great expense you end up doing what you should have done the first time around. Materials carry memory, and the replacement of materials with facsimiles destroys memory, with it the hard won truths and values of our society. As an example I’ve posted two images of bricks one of painted stamped asphalt and the other of 19th century brick pavers.


    The inadvertent marks of the makers, of the hands that handled the wet clay can be seen in the lower image, the memory of the lives that made these bricks. The moss growing between each brick reveals an unanticipated symbiosis of inert and living matter. the bricks, slightly uneven gently accommodate the pushing of tree roots below without cracking or failing. The stamphalt has none of this capacity to hold time and life–no capacity for memory and for that matter, imagination. The fact that it is unsustainable and unrecyclable is no coincidence. Whenever we remove the dimension of time and the capacity to remember from materials, we fall prey to appearances and hidden costs, not only economic and environmental but cultural and societal.

Siloam stamphalt

Siloam Springs very own stamphalt, downtown.

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

4 Responses to The real and the imitation

  1. Tim J. says:

    Bravo! So well stated. This is also part of the problem I see with the prevalence of art reproductions over originals. There is a whole level of memory and human interaction that goes AWOL.

    Hand-made objects of very ordinary quality would be preferable (IMO) to reproductions of work of higher quality work or to mass produced products.

    This is one reason I am kind of glad to see my day job go. I have lost all enthusiasm for designing ephemera. I would rather leave a few things that last than leave shipping container loads of disposable junk that no one will miss. I don’t care if I ever see another piece of cast polyresin again in my life.

  2. pNielsen says:

    I like that perspective on your day job.

  3. Paul S. says:

    In the town where I live they poured a ton of money into “rejuvinating” the main street that has come close to being downright ghostly, due to the town’s “center/hub” being moved by other developments (large grocery store further north etc., etc.)

    The main street has real heritage value, the same as a number of homes in the town, so it is sad to see the way it has been going. Anyways they put in new lamp posts and and the whole bit and widened it all up (which was good), and they used “stampcrete”.

    I must honestly say that “stampcrete” breaks my heart. Even Mordor used real stone.

  4. pNielsen says:

    Indeed. Now we shall all move to Mordor.

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