The 15th SIEF Congress was held in June, 19–24 2021 as a virtual event. As we wrote in our last blogpost, the SENSOMEMO research group attended the congress by organizing a panel and a workshop. Both were very fruitful, as the speakers and participants offered excellent food for thought addressing the issues of affective objects and atmospheres in different contexts and variety of concepts.
For the panel, we had called for presentations which would focus on how particular objects and environments affect different kinds of feelings and atmospheres, and how they help to imagine the future or make connections with the past. We heard seven presentations dealing with the subject in very different contexts, but which also had many things in common.
The first part of the panel had four papers addressing the multiple roles materiality plays in the life stories of transnationally adopted people, the ways in which asylum seekers can create feelings of home in a reception center, and in how materiality helps you to give a perspective on history, and how objects can create continuity even in a paradoxical way. In the second part, we learned about kink materiality and the decisions about placing kinky objects on private/public places at home, about materiality and sensory experience of Dubai’s shopping malls that connect also to ‘sensory urbanism’ and, finally, about how bodies, objects and emotions interrelate with practicing mindfulness.
All papers demonstrated how material objects can be used to create life stories and sense of identity. However, we cannot always choose which these objects are, and thus, the materiality present at home and in our surroundings also shape our lives and is an essential part of who we are. Different kinds of items, and materiality can be both personal and cultural, as they help to create a sense of self and belonging, and to express something about the owners and their backgrounds to other people. The material elements of home can include mementos, decorative objects, furniture, art, and house plants which can be set to different assemblages that create “cozy corners of our homes”. Oftentimes it is not one single object that makes the space home, but entanglement of materiality with practices such as possibility to cooking and eating together or reading in peace and quiet. Through daily practices, materiality relates to bodily sensations and sensory practices such as touching, feeling and smelling, and effects on us via physical presence of familiar sensations that create feelings of security and order.
In addition to the panel, we also organized an online workshop to explore home environments from the perspective of affects and sensory experiences. We wanted to look at how materiality at home is linked to affects and meaning-making, and what kinds of material and sensory elements are important for creating a cozy atmosphere. We asked the participants to send us a photo of a cozy environment or favorite spot of their home.
The workshop made us realize how interesting the word “cozy” is. According to Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary (https://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/cozy). The word cozy can mean something small, comfortable, and warm. It may also mean something friendly and pleasant, or it may suggest or show a close relationship between two people or groups. Especially the idea of cozy being something comfortable and warm was visible in the photos our workshop participants sent us, but during the discussions it became obvious that the word cozy had a slightly different meaning for each participant. Many people attached coziness to feelings of relaxation and being at ease, maybe even to “doing nothing”, but for some, a cozy place at home was a working place where they felt “free” or “being at their best”. COVID-19 pandemic has changed our homes into spaces of never-ending work and stages that are visible on the background of our screen, but it seemed important to many that our homes were also safe and private places where familiar items brought comfort during difficult and harsh times. By paying attention to what happens when something unusual occurs and the the everyday routines of home environment break, we can learn a great deal about the ways in which we order and connect with materiality of home.
During the workshop (and with the help of Padlet) we were able to reveal some layers of coziness and cozy atmospheres. Photos, the written stories attached to these photos, and, finally, the stories told during the workshop gave us an understanding of this multi-sited phenomena. It also gave us a glimpse of how we can trace the various aspects coziness and what elements we must include when defining it for more scientific contexts.
We would like to know what coziness means for you. Please, visit our Padlet board (https://padlet.com/kristiinakorjonenkuusipuro/20dg8tld9ulilfp2 ), and share some photos, comments, and thoughts about what coziness implies for you and about the relationship between materiality, sensory experiences, and atmospheres.
Anna, Eerika, Viktorija and Kristiina