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The Pores of Our Skin are Full of Oil

Space, matter, the way that things are assembled together create ways of life. We cannot be separated from our environments. There is a podcast about termites which describes the impossibility of speaking about a single termite. Termites work together to eat, build, and without the connections to other termites in the mound, or the fungus they cohabit with, a singular termite does not make sense. The relationships between one termite and any other thing is as much part of the termite as its size, weight, age, or other measurable property. Perhaps the connections mean more than the termite itself, because it is only as a collection of relationships that the termites live at all.

The relationships between things sometimes make it hard to imagine any other way of structuring them. As architecture students, we are trained to spatialise particular connections between bodies, space, technology, objects. The choice of any material, or sequence of spaces, or how something is commissioned all are embedded in a network of relationships: which details are taught in school, what is regulated by building standards, who has power in urban life. Tom Hilsee’s video, The Pores of our Skin are full of Plastic: A History of Petrochemicals and their Production Process, traces the relationship between landscapes, rock formations, processing techniques, statecraft, military coordination, colonial power lines, consumer culture, and molecular structures. Now plastics have become ubiquitous, shaping so much of human and non-human life, moulding pressurised relationships of endless growth. The video ends with a provocation – can we imagine lives not enmeshed by plastic? In every relationship we embody new instances of the world. What would need to happen for change to not seem impossible?

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