Evolving humanity, emerging worlds
Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013
Surfaces: contesting boundaries between materials, mind and body
Location Roscoe 3.5
Date and Start Time 06 Aug, 2013 at 14:00
Life is conveyed by, and carries on through, surfaces such as those of the mind, body, materials and environment. This panel invites reflections on the meaning and qualities of surfaces, and to explore how these reflections might inform understandings of the world and mind.
Life is conveyed by, and carries on through, surfaces. Social life is conducted through bodily and material surfaces and along the surfaces of ground, sea and air. We delve into the intricacies of social life in moving through surfaces to densities of mind and matter.
The history of the earth, life and humanity lies deep beyond the surface of the atmosphere and below the surface of the earth and the sea. The surfaces of material things enshroud the technological entanglements that sustain everyday life. Social life is encountered through the surfaces of the body which binds the micro-world of the mind with the macro-world of the environment. Accordingly, language and discourse has been conceived as operating in a double register; communication can be superficial or convey profound meanings.
These established dichotomies which conflate superficiality with 'surface understandings' and knowledge of the inside as an 'in-depth' seriously limit the development of a critical understanding of surfaces. It becomes difficult to bridge interiority with the world around, when surfaces are considered as impermeable boundaries of enclosure. Understandings of evolution, history, knowledge, creativity, language and memory are fraught with tensions between the internal and external.
The proposed panel is thus an invitation to critically examine our current understandings of surfaces and explore how surfaces might help us rethink social processes and relationships between the world and mind. We encourage submissions from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and those that draw on fieldwork and creative practice.
Discussant: Prof. Tim Ingold and Prof. Susanne Küchler
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Smoke as surface: turning the horizontal into the vertical in Andean rituals of the Aymara and the Mapuche.
Smoke is one of the main components of indigenous rituals in the Andean and Sub Andean regions. If considered air is considered as a surface, a new understanding emerges from the relation with ritual smoke. The horizontal plane turns upside down and new passages are traced between the community of humans and non-humans, natural and spiritual beings.
The use of smoke as part of the indigenous rituals in the Andean and Sub Andean regions is widely spread. Here we compare ritual practices coming from the Aymara and the Mapuche ceremonial repertoire. In this context, smoking, burning, producing deep blue smoke, using specific trees for certain fires, are means of creating surfaces that connect the interior of the body with the spiritual world. Likewise, understanding not only the smoke of the volcanoes but also de hot springs as its puffing, invites to reconsidered the world's composition. Instead of stressing the binary oppositions between the up and down, our approach inspired by the vital materialism invites to explore the physical connections between them. The horizontal plane in such a case requires to be turned into a vertical position constituted by stuff of diverse nature: caves, deep waters, trees, branches and roots, air and wind, smoke, clouds and the celestial river and arch, all appear in the ritual life of the indigenous peoples of the Andean region. The interior of the earth as the interior of the human being is physically connected with the otherwise perceived as the outside world in the same way as dreams, conveyed through means of smoke, become part of the collective and spiritually shared space. Air is the surface across which the wheezing world is experienced.
What lies beneath: sampling beyond (the) surface(s)
Arctic scientists use a plethora of techniques to acquire their natural samples. Drawing on ethnographic research with scientists in the field, I explore how prodding in and between different types of organic matter takes us beyond the surface.
Ecological psychologist Gibson defines a surface as 'the interface between any two of the three states of matter- solid, liquid and gas'. Ecological anthropologist Ingold states that the world has no surface, instead surfaces are in the world, not of the world.
Working with environmental scientists, I experienced this view being enacted in daily discourse, in sampling practices and in theoretical analysis. The world as one sphere with life, be it animal, plant or rock moving in and through it. I use two ethnographic examples from current fieldwork in Spitsbergen to illustrate. The first details the practices of marine biologists sampling water, ice and a muddy seafloor for animal and plant life, all from the comfort of a ship floating on the sea's surface. The second example describes glaciologists, going beyond the surface of the glacier to study crevasses and what happens inside and below.
In this paper I do not take surfaces as concealing what lies beneath, rather I suggest that surfaces reveal. This challenges the common dichotomy between surface versus in-depth knowledge. A surface is where things meet. 'On the surface' is thus where it matters. Many surfaces are in the world, yet, pace Ingold, perhaps surfaces are also of the world, since the world and life as we know it, exists through them.
In the light and shadow: turning the dead to keep the world alive.
Astrological practice in West Bezanozano takes part in life’s magic interplay of light and shadow, heaven and earth, sky and soil. I will elaborate this theme through the ritual of the famadihana (turning the dead into ancestors) because this is the most extreme example of how people in West Bezanozano deal with the play of life and death without their world falling apart and become deadly instead of life-giving.
Astrology in West Bezanozano can be defined by the foundational sensations of light and shade according to the crosswise leadership of the sun and moon. Astrological practice in West Bezanozano takes part in life's magic interplay of light and shadow, heaven and earth, sky and soil. I will elaborate this theme through the ritual of the famadihana (turning the dead into ancestors) because this is the most extreme example of how people in West Bezanozano deal with the play of life and death without their world falling apart and become deadly instead of life-giving.
I will show how the astrologer creates a secure path from the village to the grave so that the living can bring the blessed shrouds and the spirits of the dead to the tomb to unite them with the bones. As such, the dead are raised from their dwelling in the decaying and deadly soil in which the bones have emerged towards the sacred, life-giving realm of the ancestors. In the tomb they will no longer be put on the lowest level beneath the ground level but on a higher level (the part of the tomb that is above ground level). The rewrapped dead will be able to give life to new bodies, places and activities started by the living whenever they are called during blessings appearing in step with the winter sun ascending in the sacred northeast at 9 am.
Becoming visible: water, mind and materiality
This paper considers how, in flowing through the surfaces of people and things, water challenges notions of interiority and externality and dissolves assumptions about material stability.
In permeating and flowing through the surfaces of people and things and across the spaces in-between, water challenges assumptions that personhood is enclosed in the body. It connects human beings to all organic biota and to the flows of water that, in various forms and densities, move through and animate the material environment. Sometimes reflective, sometimes transparent, water epitomises the potential for surfaces to be open or closed. Water is therefore 'good to think' destabilising ideas about interiority and externality, self and other.
Drawing on ethnographic research in Australia, and inspired by Aboriginal concepts of 'becoming visible', this paper considers how water provides both a literal and metaphorical medium for moving between micro and macro worlds. It explores current understandings of surfaces and materiality, and the processes through which surfaces are employed as imaginative boundaries, enabling things and people to be recognised and classified. It suggests that these processes contain a dynamic tension between ideas about material stability and notions of ephemerality and flow.
Creating lifelikeness: surfaces on which to play hide and seek
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.
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.
Bioarchaeology and Skin: Framing the boundaries of practitioner and material
The field of bioarchaeology is inherently a tactile discipline. Its analysis and encounter of material is principally produced through the embodied contact of investigator and skeletal remains. This paper explores this critical relationship between practitioner and their discipline in the scope of the digital age
Focusing on the notion of skin as a tool in the field of bioarchaeology, this investigation probes the role of this bodily surface in interpreting the material foundation (i.e. human remains) of the humanities and social sciences. The entity of skin is a dynamic and fluctuating conduit in which we filter our worldly encounters. As such, it endows our experiences with the manifestation of meaning. Engaging within the framework of this session, it is put forth that the examination, analysis, and subsequent interpretation of human remains is firmly entrenched within the tactile sensation. Prompted by laboratory and fieldwork investigations, skin is used as a tool for the critical understanding of the past bodies through the medium of our present bodies. Through this bodily collaboration, we arrive at an area vibrant in potential discourse. The seminal role of a bioarchaeologist is to extend beyond the examination of skeletal remains to expose the archaeological surface and enlighten the public to a shared (past) human condition. Just as (bio)archaeology informs us through the transfer of knowledge through layered past experiences so is the surface and embedded meanings of flesh. The increased desire to record collections of skeletal remains in a digital, computerized form further remove this primary sensation of tactile contact and transformed the manner in which these collections are analyzed. By bringing attention to this influential relationship of the skin of the past and present human condition, a new understanding of association between world and mind is produced.
The Threshold as Social Surface: The Architecture of South Korean Urban Marketplaces
Drawing on Gibson’s approach to the surface, one is reminded of the conventional terms of architectural discourse. One of the key concepts in architecture is threshold, the mediating condition between two distinctive states, most often simply inside and outside, public and private. This is applied to a study of markets in South Korea, depicted through multiple inscriptive practices.
Drawing on Gibson's approach to the surface, one is reminded of the conventional terms of architectural discourse. One of the key concepts in architecture is threshold, the mediating condition between two distinctive states, most often simply inside and outside, public and private.
Often, such thresholds are socially practiced rather than actual constructions. This is most apparent in the marketplace, where crossings between producers, middlemen, buyers, and sellers occur in parallel to various knottings of social class and ethnicity.
This paper is drawn from research describing markets such as Dongdaemon (Seoul), Jagalchi (Busan), and Seomun (Daegu) in South Korea. The methodology is a nascent form of Graphic Anthropology which references my background training in both architecture and anthropology. What can we learn about a place by depicting it graphically through drawings, notations, maps and diagrams? How does this complement the recording media of photography, film and sound recording; as well as the socially embedded practices of anthropology?
The aim of the research is both to establish a methodology, and to produce a working record of a place through multiple overlapping inscriptive practices. This record is intended to form the basis of understanding a site in order to inform design processes with social and spatial practices in mind rather than the conventional modes of architectural production. Key to this is a reconfiguration of the language of architecture, accounting for Gibson's surfaces and mediums intertwined with the potential offered planes and spaces.
Cinematographic Surface - Tactile Epistemology and Focal Phenomena
This paper explores the ‘malleable texture of perception’ (Abrams, 1996) and how focus is used as a device in cinematography. Using an approach to the apparent energy moving across patterned surfaces, a ‘tactile epistemology’ (Marks, 2000) is outlined and questions posed on the intervention of technology in surface perception.
The camera shutter/iris eclipses the rotating mirror, exposing the film emulsion surface to light. In high-definition video, the camera sensor is a responsive electro-conducive surface. The eye involved in material encounter through the viewfinder or screen monitor, is conscious of the act of focusing and exposure. It requires an understanding of the 'malleable texture of perception' (Abrams, 1996) to create sense and texture in cinematography. Echoing corporeal and sensual trajectories in anthropology (McDougal, Ingold, Pink etc), a 'tactile epistemology' (Marks, 2000) has emerged in film theory. Barker suggests 'films can pierce, pummel, push, palpate, and strike us; they also slide, puff, flutter, flay and cascade along our skin'. In this paper I will explore whether when 'lensbabies' or 'squishylenses' and pull-focusing techniques are applied, they may indicate varying perception and feeling about surfaces. In making my ethnographic feature documentary Cottonopolis (2012), which weaves scenes of cotton manufacture in India with memories of Manchester and Ahmedabad, I was confronted with the ever changing surfaces of cotton, from field to fabric. Surface qualities of immersion and penetration, shimmering and skimming, smoothness or roughness are affected by focus and light. Influenced by prior collaborative projects using choreography and acoustic sound composition, I observed patterns across moving surfaces producing a kind of energy, something painters also galvanize (Manning, 2009; Massumi, 2011). Texture as experience and focus as perceptive of surface are affected by technologies (Deleuze, 1993; Edensor, 2005; Marks, 2011; Thrift in Miller, 2005) and these may further affect cultural approaches to surfaces.
Ruskin and Beyond: Vital Surfaces and the Making of Architecture
The paper provides a compelling premise to the debate of architectural surfaces by revealing John Ruskin’s theory of the adorned wall veil. A historical and theoretical survey of the architectural surface reveals four figurations of surface (in addition to the representational one sanctioned by Ruskin).
Surface in architecture almost always hovers indeterminately between meaningfulness and meaninglessness. Despite the overexposed status of surface, it occupies the interstice or the space of the unconscious in architectural discourse, from where it defends its legitimacy as architecturally valuable, as opposed to merely visually pleasurable. The paper opens by revealing John Ruskin's theory of the adorned "wall veil", which highlights the concomitance of the visual and the built by locating the disciplinary identity of architecture in surface, not space, structure, or function. Ruskin relied upon Thomas Carlyle's philosophy of clothes and the notion of spiritual life to argue that the 'architectural clothing' would reveal the inner life or the moral health of the society that produced it. Besides the representational mode advocated by Ruskin, the paper goes on to uncover four additional ways of understanding surfaces evidenced in architectural practice - the urban/liminal, structural/spatial, optical, and the formal/methodological in architecture, discussed through Australian and international examples. Borrowing Kurt Forster's argument about the pervasiveness of surfaces and Andrew Benjamin's argument about the productive 'function' of surfaces, the paper offers these five lenses as the critical moment that dismantles as well as re-assembles the architectural object.
On the substance of surfaces: understanding materials and design in the Pacific
This paper approaches surfaces through an examination of the performance of materials in design. It takes as its focus coconut leaf baskets from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. It explores the re-emergence of barkcloth in basketry design and the possibilities this offers in the social world.
This paper approaches surfaces through an examination of their performance in design. The renewed production of a type of barkcloth (kapiak) used to wrap coconut leaf baskets (aruaai) in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea provides a fertile context to explore issues of materials selection and design thinking. The paper discusses how the production of kapiak is constrained through the availability of natural resources, technical knowledge and competing materials. By tracing out the social context of the production of aruaai, this paper demonstrates how surfaces, mind and social worlds intersect through the selection of materials and the possibilities they offer.
Inside out or outside in: exploring alternative interpretations of wearing clothing on relationships between the world, body and mind.
This paper will draw on experimental creative practice to question widely held understandings of everyday clothing as inert enclosures of individual ‘identity’, by proposing their material surfaces as ‘permeable membranes’ or sensory ‘tissues’ that envelop and interconnect human organisms and their environments.
A recent experiment by the author has involved documenting individuals' clothing practices over periods of days, and weeks with photography and video. Using digital manipulation techniques, such as overlay and levels of transparency, sequences were made that enabled images to fade into one another. This created layered, palimpsestic records through which past dressing could seep through into the physical present and back again. The digital format facilitated an 'archaeology of dressing' that uncovered the mutability of the dressed body and the daily transformations that normally go unseen, even by ourselves as we look in the mirror. The transparency of the cumulative photography made it possible to compare and contrast aesthetic details of clothing worn: such as structural changes in the form and volume of garment silhouette, the sites of seams and other detailing such as belts or pockets. Items worn for particular social events and environments such as a toweling robe after bathing in the private time and space of home; or an anorak worn for the outside, the cold wind and the rain, could merge and emerge through others to reveal the contrasting nature of materials and styles.
The resulting imagery conveys ephemeral transitions that are blurred and in flux without defined edges. The permeability of materials is suggested along with their haptic affect. The author will reference the imagery to explore ways that clothed bodies are enveloped by clothing's 'sensual membranes' and connected via these 'agential tissues' to be in touch with others, and with the world.
Surfaces in the making. Of knitting minds, bodies, materials and senses
Based on qualitative interviews as well as autoethnography, this paper discusses knitting as a practice contesting boundaries between the mental, the bodily and the material as well as its sensory dimensions.
This paper takes the panel proposal as an opportunity to reflect on knitting as a practice contesting boundaries between the mental, the bodily and the material. When knitting, the mind is connected with the material through the body. The idea or creative impetus surfacing in the mind is brought to (material) life through the body, thus lending a tangible and enduring quality to the once mental. The surface in the making then is a creation of mind, body and material in collaboration.
The question arises whether mind, body and material - in all objectivity separated by their surfaces - have to be seen as divided by the boundaries of each other. Where would the idea (mind) end, where the creation (material) start? Or do they form a continuum, in which the mental, the bodily and the material indistinguishably blend into each other when knitting.
Furthermore, what is the role of the senses in this continuum of the mental-bodily-material altogether? Sensory perception, after all, is a key ingredient of any kind of creative practice. Does the introduction of the senses in this respect challenge the idea of the continuum because the tactility of the surface in the making might lead to its being sensed as a boundary? What are further implications of the knitted surface's sensuous character?
Based on qualitative interviews, participant observation / participant practice, as well as autoethnography, this paper therefore aims at exploring the boundary-contesting quality of knitting as well as its sensory dimensions.
Screening the surface: theories, texts, texture
This paper maps out an emerging field of ‘surface studies’ in relation to our respective interests in early modern embodiment, contemporary images and screens. We make connections across these seemingly diverse areas, and consider what a focus on surfaces does to textual analyses and approaches.
In the Arts and Social Sciences, theoretical consideration of the surface is widespread and diverse. For example, in Film and Animation Studies, Art and Anthropology, critics such as Vivian Sobchack (2008) and Tim Ingold (2007) have analysed subjectivity, line and surface; in English, History and Cultural Studies, Claudia Benthien (2004), Steven Connor (2004), Elspeth Probyn (2005), Patricia Cahill (2009) and Tanya Pollard (2010) have scrutinised the historical significance of skin as a surface; in Sociology, there is increased concern with flatness, association and networks (Bruno Latour 2005, Lisa Adkins and Celia Lury 2009). In this paper we begin to map out this field in relation to our own research on bodies and skin in Shakespeare, and particularly in As You Like It (Oakley-Brown, forthcoming) and bodies, contemporary images and screens (Coleman 2012). Our aim is to make connections across these seemingly diverse disciplinary areas and case studies, and in particular, via ideas about texture, to consider what a focus on surfaces does to textual analyses and approaches. For example, Oakley-Brown argues that an interest in Shakespearian surfaces highlights a complex relationship between skin and spectator, embodiment and the senses, so that ultimately, the Shakespearian text rests on the performers' skin. Coleman concentrates on screens as surfaces that bring specific kinds of bodies to life, and argues that this indicates that images function not so much texts to be read, as materialities that are felt and lived out. The paper thus critically examines the relations between cultural processes, materiality and surfaces.
Designing surfaces: from geometries of enclosure to textures of integration
This paper explores the various performances and qualities of surfaces within the industrial practice of product design. In doing so, it attempts to show how environmental perception is bound-up with the making and make-up of material things.
In modern product design, surfaces are a core design concept and an important element of physical product make-up. They are conventionally used to shroud technological complexity and render the material qualities of technical workings to a hidden infrastructure. In doing so, they divide and form the fluid material world into a staccato distribution of seemingly discreet objects and emphasise perceived distinctions between mind:body and society:nature.
This conventional way of thinking about and working with surfaces restricts the creativity of product design, sanitises social relationships with materials, and limits opportunities for everyday environmental awareness.
Through drawing on critical perspectives in anthropology and design studies, designed surfaces can be re-thought and re-made. Rather than being considered as reductionist geometries of enclosure, they could be considered as rich textiles of integration, which celebrate the energetic capacities of the material world and act as material confluences between people and their surrounding environments.
This paper will explore these issues through drawing on anthropological and design theory and ethnographic fieldwork in a modern product design practice.
When the eye meets the ground. The temporality of surfaces in the study of the past.
Sciences that excavate the past tend to conceptualize time vertically. By looking at the history of science I show how this view has been adopted by many disciplines outside the geosciences, providing them with an enclosed understanding of knowledge and a conceptual foundation for academic debate.
Important sciences conceptualize the study of the past as an exploration that removes surfaces downwardly. These sciences tend to conceptualize time vertically as a sequence of layers accumulated from bottom to top. Common not only in the geosciences but adopted throughout the 20th century by the social sciences and the humanities, this view has worked as a conceptual foundation for important academic debates in the study of knowledge. Drawing on recent ethnographic work with scientists that excavate the past and on the analysis of the development of the visual language of disciplines that adopted a stratigraphic view of time, I trace some key debates in the history of science showing how the understanding of knowledge got enclosed by surfaces, providing a frame for the discussion of rival approaches. In doing so, I show how recent debates in different fields have attempted to render the vertical view of time horizontal by bringing knowledge back to the surface. Even though this has proved fruitful for challenging the authority of science, it risks missing the particularities of how different disciplines engage with their environments.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.