Surface tensions

Surface, finish and the meaning of objects

Edited by Glenn Adamson and Victoria Kelley

Surface tensions

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8751-6
  • Pages: 232
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £90.00
  • Published Date: November 2013
  • BIC Category: Art History, Theory of art, Industrial / commercial art & design, ART / Subjects & Themes / General, DESIGN / History & Criticism, The arts / Art treatments & subjects, The arts / Theory of art
  • Series: Studies in Design and Material Culture


Surfaces are often held to be of lesser consequence than 'deeper' or more 'substantive' aspects of artworks and objects. Yet it is also possible to conceive of the surface in more positive terms: as a site where complex forces meet. Surfaces can be theorized as membranes, protective shells, sensitive skins, even thicknesses in their own right. The surface is not so much a barrier to content as an opportunity for encounter: in new objects, the surface is the site of qualities of finish, texture, the site of tactile interaction, the last point of contact between object and maker, and the first point of contact between object and user.

Surface tensions includes sixteen essays that explore this theoretically uncharted terrain. The subjects range widely: domestic maintenance; avant-garde fashion; the faking of antiques; postmodern architecture and design; contemporary film costume. Of particular emphasis within the volume are textiles, which are among the most complex and culturally rich materialisations of surface. As a whole, the book provides insights into the whole lifecycle of objects, not just their condition when new.


Glenn Adamson and Victoria Kelley: Introduction
1. Victoria Kelley: A superficial guide to the deeper meanings of surface
2. Lesley Millar: Surface and practice
Time, work
3. Christine Guth: Layering: materiality, time and touch in Japanese lacquer
4. Manuel Charpy: Patina and the bourgeoisie: the appearance of the past in nineteenth-century Paris
5. Myriem Naji: A falsification of temporality: carpet distressing in Morocco
6. Margaret Ponsonby: Textiles and time: conservation and public response
7. Victor Buchli: Surface engagements at Astana
Textiles, skin
8. Mary Brooks: 'No less dangerous to use than that of a Basilisk': skin and seventeenth century English embroideries
9. Charlotte Nicklas: Colour, language and light in mid-nineteenth century women's fashion
10. Rebecca Arnold: Wifedressing: designing femininity in 1950s American fashion
11. Sarah Gilligan: Long coats, flowing fabrics: fashioning masculinity and desire in film and television
12. Ulrich Lehmann: Surface as material, material into surface: dialectic in C.C.P.
Depth, im/permeability
13. Alice Barnaby: Surface recognition: light and reflection in mid nineteenth-century drawing rooms
14. Stephen Knott: A theory of the paint-by-number surface
15. Steve Brown: The materiality of print
16. Glenn Adamson: Substance abuse: the postmodern surface


Glenn Adamson is Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria Kelley is Reader in Design and Material Culture History at University for the Creative Arts, and teaches in the School of Fashion and Textile Design, Central Saint Saint Martins College of Art and Design

Newsletter Sign Up

Manchester University Press

Your cart is empty.

Select your shipping destination to estimate postage costs

(Based on standard shipping costs)

Final cost calculated on checkout
Promotional codes can be added on Checkout