Tea-Concrete Material Experimentation
Speculative design

Test Artifacts (Left to Right): H2O (Control), Camomile, Peppermint, White, Green, Oolong, Black, Coffee, Thai

In Bruno Latour’s seminal 1991 treatise We Have Never Been Modern, the anthropologist proposed that Enlightenment-era distinctions between culture and nature, subject and object, human and environment, is an illusory construct of Modernity, and that these simplistic compartmentalizations continue to break down as we fall further into the abyss of the Anthropocene.  “Tea-crete” is an exploration of this disintegration, and a testament to the often underestimated interconnection between human and environment.  This whimsical experimental series of concrete artifacts uses tea and other steeped and diluted edible biomatter, embedding anthropomorphic character into the artifacts’ material ontology, and reconnecting with pre-Modern, non-dualistic systems.  

Picture an ancient scene: an early agriculturalist settler sits on the edge of a creek, hand forming bricks from the water’s claybed, and sipping a vessel of steeped herbs.  As they mix a base of mud clay, dry straw, wood ash, and water to produce modular blocks for the construction of their familial hut, the builder’s herbal tea finds its way into this mix.  The essential meets the incidental: the brick mixture contains not only the necessary ingredients for it to become a brick, but also the residual evidence of its human making, typified by the tea, and also including sheddings of skin flakes, hair strands, and perspirative oils –– the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears”.  The resulting hut is both an artifact of human endeavors (of construction, of habitation, of culture, of character), and an artifact of its environment (the specific time, place, and material conditions), to the point that a discrete analysis of one sphere cannot occur without the inclusion of the other.  

Now picture a contemporary scene: a designer sits in a café, daydreaming in their sketchbook, and sipping a warm tea.  A moment of happenstance occurs.  Through an accidental spill, or perhaps a curious dip, they find themselves spreading tea onto the page, brushing the diluted brown tannins into an expressive representational artifact.  This artifact simultaneously articulates the workings of their mind, while also embodying the contextual, material conditions of the environment in which this process occurred.  The act connects the designer with a lineage of pre- and/or anti-Modern ontological relations that dissolve subject into object into environ.  

Tea-crete” plays with notions of embodiment, taking environmental materials otherwise intended to be ingested, digested, and absorbed into a human’s cellular composition, and integrating them instead into cementitious free-standing totems with anthropological forensic signatures. 

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993; originally published in French, 1991).

Physical media: various teas, Rockite plaster, silicone molds

© Human Being Design 2022