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Marta Ajmar (V&A Research Institute): 'Looking into Renaissance Wood Intarsia: Material Mimesis, Embodied Disegno and Remaking' 

In his Historia naturalis, Pliny the Elder foregrounds an almost anatomical approach to trees, and the idea of a deep structural and physiological analogy between the vegetable, animal and human worlds, whereby the human body and the body of the tree are essentially the same, linked through a bond of embodied design that can become manifest. Building on this fundamental consonance, which enjoyed significant popularity during the Renaissance, this paper takes a fresh look at wood inlay or intarsia, a technology involved in an animated conversation with nature through the medium of wood. Intarsia will be explored through material mimesis, an active component of wider processes of artisanal epistemology whereby approximating another material – natural or man-made – does not reflect only an artistic and technological aspiration, but also a new way of looking into the depth of matter, and an intention to connect at a deep level human making with nature’s generative power. To make with nature. Examining recent experiences of partial intarsia reconstruction, I will consider how remaking can affect our perception and understanding of the making of images, and open new questions around the historicity of materials, histories of labour and technology and the human/more-than-human ecosystems underpinning them.

The Work in Progress seminar explores the variety of subjects studied and researched at the Warburg Institute. Papers are given by invited international scholars, research fellows studying at the Institute, and third-year PhD students.