Introducing _ Abrasion Studies No 1

February 6, 2008 § 1 Comment

It has been a hobby of mine to collect traces of abrasion all around me. In shops like H&M or department stores, the floor shows traces of abrasion always at certain main routes that people take to get to the elevator, the newsstand or other main points of interest. Initially I became aware of abrasion in Japan, where the art of wood work has a long standing tradition and temples are made to exist for many hundreds of years.

The abrasive legacy of centuries

A particular aspect of wood as a material is that it can get wet and dry easily, especially very hard woods, like the Japanese cedar. Abrasion makes the surface smooth and flat, allowing water to roll of and keep the surface from deteriorating. In all kinds of arts, abrasion smooths out uneven levels, makes shine surfaces and heightens the appeal and durability of certain materials. The quality of an even surface, that is the microscopic density of molecules, is largely determined by the degree of abrasion. A very fine polishing stone for metal (3000+) lets you create very sharp knives which don’t wear off easily, because the distance between particles is very low. For any process of abrasion, an abrasive tool is applied to a surface of a lower density under pressure.

“Abrasion resistance refers to resistance to being worn away by rubbing or friction. Abrasion resistance is a matter of toughness, rather than hardness. It is a necessary quality for floor finishes, enamels and varnishes.”

From: top500.de

To my eyes, processes of natural and man-made abrasion mark counter-acting forces: For artifacts and handicrafts to develop abrasion stands at the beginning of culture and goes down to industrialization by continuously scrap off coal from the mountain or dig it from the landscape. At the same time, natural abrasion is the counter force to man-made culture, as we see in winds and water which causes erosion of coastlines and deterioration of concrete and stone surfaces. Applied over a long term, even small particles like sand can force denser structures to crumble. The keyword here is continuous.

What is abrasion studies?

So far abrasion studies (German: Abrieb) is more a hobby than a field of study. To give you an idea, I collected some pictures of abrasion and my free interpretation of them in relation to social processes. Inevitable, traces on the material floor of a station or a department store tell us something about the social dynamics, since the traces of abrasion have been brought about by a continuous, repetitive movement of large numbers of people that interact with a given material in an identical fashion. Thus traces of social movements are inscribed in the material world. Lets decipher some of them.

Brass Handrail

This a brass handrail in a museum. It is located in the left side of the stairs, so that people who descend approach it once they reach the first step on the top. However, they seem to let loose once they are on the stairs. What does that tell us? The frightening length and height of the stairs prompts you (me too) to seek safety. But once you discover that the stairs are wide enough and not steep at all, the handrail is no longer needed (for most of us).

Empty Center

My favorite example that should be familiar from many cities. Apparently the “Orange Line” is a popular way to travel the center of Berlin, as it connects East and West. As people look for their way they scratch on the map. The more people come to Berlin, the more they wipe out the center. In a very Barthesian twist (“L’Empire des Signes”), I would extend that interpretation to the city, not just the map. They more the center is designed for easy consumption and mega shopping malls, the more flows of tourists wipe out the historical center of the city. In Berlin, this center was empty anyway due to the Berlin Wall. After 1989 there have been attempts to artificially re-erect it as an island called “Potsdamer Platz”, which does not offer much of an urban experience after 10 p.m.

Fast Forward Society

This is a listening station in a department store. Apparently, PLAY, FF, SKIP, and VOL UP seem to be the most popular buttons. Does it mean that no one takes the time to listen to music attentively any more? Or is the capacity of hearing deteriorating? Does it say something about the CD as a fast-forward medium, when parts of electronica sound like a fast-forward rush? I wonder what the players in the classical music department look like? Maybe the same?

More to come…

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