The Visual Art & Design Research Group of the South Australian School of Art & the Louis Laybourne-Smith School of Architecture & Design, University of South Australia, City West Campus, invites you to …   A Colloquium Called ‘SURFACE’ — 24. 25. 26.
October 2003. Adelaide
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The Colloquium Guest will be Professor Paul Carter: Australian Research Council professorial research fellow at the University of Melbourne (1994-8 & 1999-2003), Principal Fellow, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne and Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Constructed Environment, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Author of many books, including The Road to Botany Bay (1987), The Lie of the Land (1996) and Repressed Spaces: the poetics of Agoraphobia (2002). The Colloquium Proposition
The overall theme for this Colloquium is ‘surface’, in the many ways we may consider this word – materially and immaterially, literally and latently. How we might speak and write and make the surface. How the world appears as appearance. How touching the surface may bring up notions of tact and tactility. How the heart of the thing beats.

The Colloquium will be a laboratory-type event for thinking and reflecting and inventing, using ‘surface’ as a small generative idea.

In recent contemporary philosophy and architectural theory the surface has been a key issue. For instance, Mark Taylor, writing in the Introduction to Surface Consciousness: “The focus is on surface as the subject of study rather than the oppositional formation of whether surface is depth or depth is surface, or the phrenologist’s ability to strip away surface to find hidden depths.”(1) Brian Massumi writes about “… a re-surfacing of process …”: “For even transcendings of the process, gappings and supplementations and even incommensurabilities, return to the surface, to immanence.” This is the ‘processual surface’. “The processual ‘surface’ is all engulfing. It is active in and of itself. It is complex. In other words, it is a topological surface: of deformation and involution; of the availability of every thing, of every form, even the ages of humanity (and the reactions against them), to continuous transformation.”(2)

Derrida writing about ‘touching’, and given that we might think the surface can be touched: “Touching with tact upon the thinking of touch, but also hugging it, body and soul, in one’s arm …, such thinking must at the same time offer itself and expose itself – to letting itself be touched. For to touch, so one believes, is, touching what one touches, to let oneself be touched by the touched, by the touch of the thing, whether objective or not, or by the flesh that one touches and that then becomes touching as well as touched.”(3)

Understood in these ways, the idea of surface touches also upon that of form – and particularly upon the proposition, put by Rosalind Krauss and Yves Alain Bois, that Georges Bataille’s concept of the ‘formless’ should properly be seen as an ‘operation’ – to be performed (4). Hence perhaps there is no paradox in the question as to whether the ‘formless’ may have ‘surface’. Whichever – Bataille’s operation always works to bring things down to the ground (see below).

The Colloquium will have five parts, starting Friday evening October 24 with a talk by Paul Carter, the opening of a small exhibition with work from the presenters, and dinner. Two sessions on Saturday will be held at the Function Room of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The morning sessions on Sunday will be held at ‘TBA’, and the afternoon session will be in Hossein and Angela Valamanesh’s backyard (TBC).

We envision that over the time allocated for the Colloquium something will be invented. For example: The Invention Of A Commission; The Invention Of A Question.

As a ‘real surface’ – as a ‘ground’, perhaps even as a grounding - a 22 acre site on the Whyalla campus of the University of South Australia, which has been set aside by the Whyalla campus as an ongoing art and architecture experimental site, will be a locus for speculation. There are images of the site here – in the interests of idle speculation and random conversation. For those uninterested in such specificity, feel free to generate your own 'virtual' locus – fictive or otherwise ... as 'in admitting of being called by the name so far as the effect or result is concerned', or, as pertaining to optics: 'an apparent focus or image resulting from the effect of reflection or refraction upon rays of light'.

We will prepare a small set of readings and distribute them. If you would like to suggest other readings please email us with the details and we will put them onto the website. We also welcome references to films, music, architecture, websites, artists … whatever might help in this thinking process. This may include examples of your own work.

Please email or phone either John Barbour or Linda Marie Walker with your suggestions. We consider that the colloquium is already underway, and that the conversation has begun.

JB: 08 8302 0332
LMW: 08 8302 0746
The website is being designed by Teri Hoskin … for this event. This is an ongoing process that is generated by the colloquium. All enquiries about posting things to the site, and any other suggestions are welcomed. Email Teri (cc JB & LMW):

1. Mark Taylor, ed., Introduction, in Architectural Design, vol 73, no 2, Wiley-Academy, London, 2003: 5
2. Brian Massumi, “Deleuze, Guattari and the Philosophy of Expression (Involutionary Afterword):”
3. Jacques Derrida, “Le toucher, Touch/to touch him”, in Paragraph, A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, Edinburgh University Press, vol 17, no 2, 1993: 136
4. Rosalind Krauss/Yves Alain Bois, Formless: a user’s guide. MIT, 1997 – anywhere.
5. “The 'phenomena' which Material Thinking documents and interprets are a series of creative collaborations (or inventions) in which cultural theory is materialised. In the act of materialisation general knowledge is localised. Here, the structural dynamics of 'collaboration' (between thinker and maker, writer and artist, image and text) turn out to be integral to what is found and made. The unconscious resistance of materiality to conceptualisation reassumes an epistemological value. The 'local' turns out to be the privileged site of invention.” Comfort Levels. Sept. 24. 2003. (
eWRe The electronic Writing Research ensemble is generously hosted by Virtual Artists
Surface site design: Teri Hoskin