How do people react to materials emotionally, and how has this changed over time? Three workshops held at UCL’s Institute of Making in Spring 2014 explored how people respond when confronted with unfamiliar materials, when they see dramatic changes in physical forms, and when they seek to restore material states that they feel have been lost. The workshops asked how we might articulate such experiences and use them to ask new questions of the past and the role of material culture in the arts, sciences, and museums. For each workshop a dozen or so participants from different disciplines including scholars and curators from anthropology, history, fine art, history of art, and science and technology studies responded to the session through blogs. The sessions all raised new questions for the participants, and these will be of relevance in taking forward studies of material culture in history, art, museology and many other areas. To learn more, we encourage you to read the blogs on this site.


In “Emotions” (April 28, 2014), professor of surgery Roger Kneebone and sculptor Matthew Sanderson explored human reactions to surgery, with a lecture, videos and practical exercises including simulated surgery on one of the participants! In “Restorations” (May 12, 2014) UCL library conservator Fred Bearman and artist Celia Pym discussed the experience of handling antiquarian books and textiles, dealing with their restoration, and conserving them for future generations. In “Transformations” (June 30, 2014), pyrotechnician Matthew Tosh and artist Lucy Lyons examined people’s responses to explosions and bangs with a practical demonstration of fireworks techniques and artistic renderings of explosive experiences.

This website hosts blog entries, images and video recordings produced through the project. Under the heading ‘People’ you will find details of the participants and the organizers, Leonie Hannan (UCL), Simon Werrett (UCL) and Anna Maerker (King’s College London). Under the heading “The Workshops” you can find video footage from each of the three workshops. There is also space to respond to any of this material and we welcome any replies. Finally, there is a link to the Institute of Making, UCL’s highly innovative centre for the study of materials, which we highly encourage you to visit.

You can download all our blog posts as a pdf here: Emotions Transformations Restorations – Downloadable Blog Entries

Transformations Workshop Footage

On 30 June 2014 pyrotechnician Matthew Tosh and artist Lucy Lyons explored the theme of ‘Transformations’.

Here is some footage from the workshop:

Lucy Lyons asked participants to draw their experience of a pyrotechnic explosion. Closing their eyes, participants focused on the sound of the explosion and traced their reaction with a pen on paper.

Matthew Tosh demonstrates the way metal flake sparks emitted from a firework cool down and lose enough energy not to burn his hand when he immerses it in the sparks.

Lucy Lyons asked participants to make their own fireworks using bleach on paper primed with ink. Participants compared their reaction to the images with their reaction to the fireworks shown by Matthew.

Emotions Workshop Footage

On 28th April 2014 surgeon Roger Kneebone and sculptor Matthew Sanderson explored the workshop participants’ emotional responses to objects.

Roger Kneebone invites participants to handle surgical objects and document their emotional reaction

Roger Kneebone uses a prop to ‘perform an operation’ on workshop participant Emily Hayes

Matt Sanderson invites participants to shape and play with copper wires and exhibits some of his own kinetic sculptures