VOCABULARY : Hylomorphism


Guy Keulemans

Hylomorphism is a concept dating back to Aristotle that distinguishes matter (hýlē) from form (morphḗ). In design, hylomorphic practice imparts form over material. For example, when clay is forced against the walls of a mould in ceramic production. While the clay has many vital and compelling qualities, such as grain, texture, elasticity and porosity, these qualities are smoothed away and made less sensible by the forming process. Hylomorphic practice exerts a dual effort: it produces with material, but it conceals the material. In the experience of hylomorphic objects, formation is perceived to be isolated, and distanced from material conditions of production. This is an ‘impoverished reality’ (Simondon 1992, 315).

The straight walls and slabs of concrete construction are an example of hylomorphic practice, as is the obscuring of part-lines, the design of glossy mouldings, shrouds and other industrial techniques of glamour, concealment and standardisation.

Simondon, G. (1992). ‘The genesis of the Individual’, in: Crary, J. & Kwinter, S (Eds.), Incorporations (pp.297–319 ). New York: Zone Books.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). ‘Chapter 12: 1227: Treatise on Nomadology- The War Machine,’ in: A thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translation and foreword by Brian Massumi. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Keulemans, G. 2015. ‘Affect and the experimental design of domestic products,’ thesis, UNSW Art &Design, August 2015: http://handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/54966