Anne Anlin Cheng on the Modernist fascination with surface

To this day, from aerodynamic teats to the glass wall, modern design and aesthetic philosophy remain absorbed in the idea of “pure surface.” Contemporary designers continually manipulate the relationship between the inside and outside of objects, garments, and buildings, creating skins that both reveal and conceal, skins that have depth, complexity, and their own behaviors and identities. Of course it can be said that all these moves to the surface are not really moves to the surface and in the end reconfirm the surface-depth binary (by, for instance, reproducing the surface as essence.) Yet I want to suggest that, for a brief period in the early 20th century, before cultural values collapsed back once again into a (shallow) surface and (authentic) interior divide, there was this tensile and delicate moment when these flirtations with the surface led to profound engagements with and reimaginings of the relationship between interiority and exteriority, between essence and covering.

Cheng, Second Skin: Josephine Baker & the Modern Surface p.11

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