Accepted paper:

Creating lifelikeness: surfaces on which to play hide and seek


Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic examples of practices that involve the production of bodily representations, I explore the relationship between surface and volume in creating lifelikeness. Surfaces enable games of hide and seek as practitioners imaginatively manipulate them in conveying an illusion of life.

Paper long abstract:

For bodily volume to be perceived and appreciated by probing minds and bodies, an outer layer is required: a skin or a surface delimiting a three-dimensional space. Surface matters because it reveals volume, creating shapes in what would otherwise be a cognitively confusing mass of matter. At the same time, surfaces are intriguing because they shield what hides underneath. In my paper, I will discuss the pleasures and challenges that surfaces provide in enabling games of hide and seek by drawing on two ethnographic examples of skilled practices that involve the production of bodily representations through manipulation of particular surfaces, requiring inventiveness and imagination. The first example is taxidermy, the second is the production of flat tin figures. Both practices imply a concern with the relationship between surface and volume in creating lifelikeness. A flat surface, I will suggest, needs to be fleshed out in order to convey lifelikeness. Volume implies animation; it suggests life and the expansion of breath. Volume can be realised materially or suggestively, that is, through stuffing or by using illusory techniques. In taxidermy, it is stuffing that provides volume to an otherwise flattened, deflated skin; in tin figure making, volume is suggested by painting shadows onto a flat surface. In both cases, imaginative skill is required: in turning flat surfaces into lifelike representations, practitioners engage in a cognitive tour de force as they move between surfaces and real or imagined volumes in creating an illusion of life.

panel WMW12
Surfaces: contesting boundaries between materials, mind and body