This one-day symposium examines the contemporary fascination with the surfaces, surveying the (im)material surface qualities of our everyday environment. It brings together scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines—creative arts and design, architecture, performance, cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, history, literary studies and social studies of science and technology—to discuss the construction, dissolution and deconstruction of the surface.
Siegfried Kracauer wrote, in the 1920s when the Western world was captivated by technology and mechanised production, that urban mass culture was defined by surface affects and described the experience of modernity as being that of a surface condition. Modernity’s obsession with the surface was revealed most clearly in built, designed and manufactured everyday things. The ‘surface splendour’ filled picture palaces ; glass architecture alluded to utopian milieu that breeds revolutionary subjectivity ; Josephine Baker wore her naked skin like a shimmering sheath ; factory spaces full of gleaming machinery were worshipped like a temple; the sleek surface of Bakelite signalled a new era of consumer goods.
Today, almost 100 years on, in the midst of another technological revolution, the creative industries are again preoccupied with the surface and its dissolution, disintegration or efflorescence, accentuating the surface’s function of mediation or passage, rather than that of separation or boundary. The surface evaporates, percolates, become blurred or spectral in Diller and Scofidio’s Cloud Machine; Bill Morrison’s Decasia; Bart Hess’s Digital Artefact; Sruli Recht’s translucent leather collection Apparition. James Turrell’s light architecture is simultaneously material and immaterial, and the surface seems to disappear altogether with Surrey Nanosystems’ Vantablack.
If the everyday surface can be regarded as a site for the projection and display of psychical, cultural, social, and political values, what is the implication of the dissolving surface? How does the (im)materiality of surface affect our experience of the body, self and society today? What is our attitude towards these surface qualities? In what forms does surface materiality exist in the virtual age? What kind of moral, functional, aesthetic values does the surface conceal or reveal?
We welcome papers for 20-minute presentations on themes including but not limited to:
• Material, processual, affective and symbolic aspects of the surface;
• The conflation of diverse surfaces: the surface of the body, garment, product, furniture, interior wall, digital screen, painting, architectural façade;
• Immaterialisation, fragmentation, corrosion, decomposition, disintegration of surface;
• How contemporary art and design express the disruptive potential of surface;
• The ways in which surface conditions can influence surrounding space, going beyond physical structure;
• the (im)materiality of an artistic/technological medium and its potential to create a transgressive surface quality or atmosphere.
1. Oppenheimer, Sarah (2014) ‘Interview: Giuliana Bruno by Sarah Oppenheimer’, Bomb Magazine, Available at: http://bombmagazine.org/article/10056/giuliana-bruno, Accessed on: 23 December 2014.
2. Kracauer, Siegfried (1995) ‘Cult of Distraction: on Berlin’s picture palaces’, in Levin T. Y. (ed.) The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, London; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp.323–328, first published in German in 1926.
3. Scheerbart, Paul (1972) ‘Glass Architecture’, in Sharp D. (ed.) Glass Architecture and Alpine Architecture, London: November Books, pp. 41–74; Benjamin, Walter (1999) 'Experience and Poverty', in Jennings, M.J., Eiland, H. and Smith, G. (eds.) Selected Writings: Vol 2, Part 2, 1931-1934, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 731–736, first published in German in 1933.
4. Cheng, Anne Anlin (2011) Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface, New York: Oxford University Press.