Destructive Plasticity in the Petri Dish: First trial

Amanda Doidge introduces me to her first experiment with “destructive plasticity” or “destructive creation” in the form of a series of Petri dishes made with mutant glazes!

The following explosive, exploded, destructive and destroyed Petri dishes are the results of Amanda’s initial meditations on “destructive plasticity” for the project.

Amanda sends me a cooly dramatic email just before she went away on holiday: “Hi Ben, these are some glaze tests of crawling and crazing glazes. A lot of them exploded in the kiln as they cooled down. I am going away tomorrow. Amanda.

The results are fantastic: cracked, greenish, pulled apart Petri dishes, some of which bubble and churn like creme brûlées or curdled milk, and others which crack into harsh geometrities and matrices like a the mudcrack floor of a desert.

When Amanda had explained to me the idea of the self-destructing Petri dishes, she told me that the glaze would be the detonator. Looking through a recipe book of glaze mixes, and pointing to a shelf full of labeled chemicals and elements in jars (Aluminum, flint, LiCO3, Magnesium Carbonate, etc…), Amanda had told me her aim was to “do everything wrong” in preparing the glaze mixtures.

Amanda had got the idea for the Petri dishes from a visit to the neuroscience laboratory at the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute when we met Dr Sandrine Thuret’s team for the first time. Amanda had become interested in the successions of the simple, clinical forms in series used for looking at stem cells. Creating explosive Petri dishes in the kiln would be a way of thinking the tension between the clinical inertia and prophylaxis of the Petri dishes, and the dynamic, destructive-creative potential of the stem cells.

Amanda prepared her Petri dishes for the kiln like little bombs. Whilst the kiln is usually the step in the ceramic produce in which form is solidified, ossified, and confirmed, Amanda’s Petri dishes explore the kiln as the site at which form is destroyed, pulled apart, and a form is created out of the destruction of form.

Amanda and I have been reading the philosopher Catherine Malabou‘s theories of of “destructive plasticity” together, looking in particular at her works What to do with What To Do With Our Brain? (2004), Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity (2009), and The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage (2009).

In these works, Malabou looks at people’s brains who have been irrevocably transformed through injury or neuropathology, her personality and selfhood becoming suddenly completely different from the person they had been before the event. Malabou argues that these transformation are not the opposite of form, they are not interruptions in plasticity, but they are themselves a form of plasticity: a form is always created when an old form is destroyed, a form of destruction.

I am not sure how much Malabou’s “destructive plasticity” is playing a part in Amanda’s thinking of the Petri dishes at this moment, or whether Amanda’s own “destructive plasticity” is something altogether different and divergent. I am excited to see where this will lead!