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Apparition: the (im)materiality of modern surface (An interdisciplinary symposium)

De Montfort University, Leicester Castle, The Great Hall
09/03/2018 (09:00-17:00)
Dr Yeseung Lee ( REGISTER HERE

Faculty of Arts, Design and Humanities, School of Design, Design Cultures presents:

Apparition: the (Im)materiality of modern surface (An interdisciplinary symposium) 


Metakimosphere No.1

Image source: Metakimosphere no.1. Immersive Performance Installation by Azzie McCutcheon, Martina Reynolds, Helenna Ren, Christopher Bishop, Seeta Indrani, Cameron McKirdy, Yoko Ishiguro, Johannes Birringer. 2015.


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, film and media studies, cultural studies, and history—to discuss the construction, dissolution and deconstruction of the surface. 

Keynote: Professor Jussi Parikka, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton 

Benedict Carpenter & Max Mosscrop, De Montfort University 

Dr Oksana Chefranova, Yale University 

Lesley Halliwell, Manchester Metropolitan University 

Dr Freyja Hartzell, Bard Graduate Center, New York 

Dr Jane Birkin, Winchester School of Art, UoS 

Professor Alistair O'Neill, Central Saint Martins, UAL

Stefanie Rau, Berlin University of the Arts/Sandberg Institute 

Dr Emine Gorgul, Istanbul Technical University 

Dr Helen Margaret Walter & Peter Quinn Davis, Plymouth University 

Convened by Design Cultures (School of Design) and Fashion Research Network 


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.[1] Modernity’s obsession with the surface was revealed most clearly in built, designed and manufactured everyday things. The ‘surface splendour’ filled picture palaces [2]; glass architecture alluded to utopian milieu that breeds revolutionary subjectivity [3]; Josephine Baker wore her naked skin like a shimmering sheath [4]; 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?


  • 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.

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