[Edited by Mark Taylor. AD vol 2, 2003. Wiley. $66.95.
Edited by Mark Taylor. AD vol 2, 2003. Wiley. $66.95.
The total surface area of this issue, thematically dedicated to “surface consciousness”, including all pages, cover and spine, is 8.380422 metres squared.
Laid out flat it would cover a surface of 4.190211 metres squared (enough to comfortably wrap two adults and a baby).
The 303 illustrations in this 128-page document, many of which are very small, occupy 68 percent of the total surface area.
While the authors’ preoccupations outside this volume are diverse, the emphasis in the layout on pictorial surface, presents the theme as divorced of materiality. For example, A sequence of five images captioned “Perplications in five unalloyed metals (bronze, silver, copper, lead and gold)” collapses surface into image. It depicts ripples repeated in five different hues. The divergent physical properties of metals would presumably alter the shape, vigour and pattern of ripples, yet there is no evidence that qualities other than colour and sheen have been considered. This is despite the authors’ stated desire to amalgamate digital and physical tectonics.
The publication has weight – 585 grams to be exact – but too little of this is intellectual. Replete with eye candy, the discussion of surface is rendered sweet and persuasive, but is ultimately insubstantial.
The word surface, used as a noun (the external layer or outer face of anything, the outside, the exterior, outward appearance) or as a transitive verb (to cover with a special surface) peppers the pages, appearing on one page twenty-five times, or at a frequency of once every twenty words. In contrast, the word consciousness, appears only once outside of the title, in a footnote referencing Avital Ronnel’s observations on the unconscious as an apparatus that sends out proxies and delegates which often miss their mark. The surfacing of repressed memories to consciousness entails a codification that demands an expert listener.
Surfacing renders surfaces illegible.
There are fourteen contributors, and thirteen admit to an ongoing full or part-time academic appointment. Six currently reside in Australia and four in New Zealand.
Already in the selection of authors (with whom I share a great deal) there is a narrowing of social (and geographical) location, with implications for access and attitude to the technologies of digital surface. Is this phenomenon centred in Australasia and why? What political and social conditions support electronica enthusiasts located within the academy to experiment with imaging toys developed in the defence and entertainment industries?
How is it then possible for graphic formal exercises, divorced from questions of occupation and urban context, to be argued as significant architecture? Are imaging experiments the most urgent and relevant activity for teams of architectural researchers with considerable expertise, resources and creativity?
It is not that some of the work here has not been of significant value to industry, it has, and there are interesting discussions of surface in relation to built projects in Australia and abroad. But there are difficult questions to be asked as to how one might distinguish innovation from formal novelty.
Certainly, the better projects under discussion here are those that address problems of an extra-formal nature.
Imaging technologies are the child of the ocular project of the Enlightenment and some critical thought needs to be given to this inheritance and the ways in which science and art maintain or offer alternatives to the dream of technological progress. More is required than rummaging through philosophy and mathematics in search of inspiration and legitimation. The volume contains references to things Deleuzian, sifted through secondary sources.
Descartes, and Euclid, taking the blame for all things orthogonal, are referred to only in the negative while Newton gets off scot-free.
Mathematicians and scientists such as Bates, Klein, Somorjai, D’Arcy Thompson are referenced, but Einstein and Minkowski not.
Avrum Stroll, author of Surfaces (1988), is a ubiquitous source, as is the nineteenthcentury architectural historian and theorist Gottfried Semper. Husserl and Derrida, who each write ebulliently about the matters at hand are clearly out of fashion, as are Freud and Lacan, despite titular expectations and their fascination with mirrored surfaces.
Amongst a disappointingly predictable array, Sarah Treadwell’s exceptional piece offers up volcanoes, fantasy cinema and missionary engravers in an essay on the instability of ground as architectural foundation. She reminds us that architecture, while having a parallel existence on the surfaces of paper and computer screens, also rests upon the earth where we struggle with others and with the forces of nature to wrest geological surface (too often conceived as a blank page) into occupied territory, surfaces in which we are permanently etched.
THE GRAND TOUR TRAVELLING THE WORLD WITH AN ARCHITECT’S EYE