New materialism does not necessarily require colossal perspectives of global or planetary assemblages. It implicates the materiality of bodies and subjects, even if we now think of subjectivity as an incorporation of these assemblages. Bonajo describes her household furniture as a “condensation of material energy”. She speculates how long she could live off that energy, and describes how she dreams of burning everything she has – a cathartic fantasy of escaping the capitalist grid. But also, this is a fantasy that invokes a palpable sense of suffering and self-destruction. Could we conjecture that new materialism invokes the drive and the suffering of this fantasy? Consider this image: a woman whose surface morphology is remoulded by a layer of ambiguous substance. She lies on her kitchen counter, on a layer of toilet paper, and decorated by birthday candles and lipsticks. The fridge is conspicuously open, so that we become aware of the food inside. I might read her as a redistributed and feminized version of Hirschhorn’s Big Cake. Bonajo presents an ambivalent scene of a body regulated between capitalist plenitude (she recreates herself as a birthday cake – we can even see the flour on the floor as evidence of this process) and physical powerlessness (she is naked, smothered by “vibrant matter”, lit up, but lying down and caught in an axis of shelving armatures, each placed like a geometric compass, in a play on Leonardo’sVetruvian Man. Now the measures of the body are restrictive, constraining, precarious.
New materialism may appear to be ahistorical, but it is precisely in its claims to conjuring a heterogeneous earthly condition, that it can find a history with preceding materialisms.
– Amanda Boetzkes, from E- Flux’s ongoing conversation on New Historical Materialisms.