"We need to know more about aesthetic desire. This is such a powerful force, and I firmly believe that we can highjack this force – by design – to force it to go in a different direction", says Ingrid Halland, Associate Professor at the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies at UiB.
Sustainability and aesthetic desire
Halland believes humanities, architecture and design can contribute to creating aesthetic desire for surfaces based on principles of circular economy. She's arguing that we cannot mimic the aesthetics belonging to the paradigms we must leave behind.
"Sustainability needs to look differently. In my upcoming project ‘Deep Surface: Rethinking Surfaces in the Age of Technology (c. 1900 – today) with Architecture and Design’ my team will experiment with prototypes of waste materials, in particular mining waste, to test how new surface ethics and aesthetics can become desirable – by theory and by design", she explains.
“Deep Surface” is based on a pilot project where Halland tested the working methods and theoretical approach in collaboration with the research platform Metode, in which she is founder and editor-in-chief.
"In 2022, I invited senior scholars Tim Ingold and Sybille Krämer to enter a dialogue with younger scholars from the humanities, architects, and artists to explore the topic ‘Deep Surface’ in order to locate research gaps and knowledge needs. This pilot project developed into the ERC Starting Grant application DEEPSurface, in which I address a significant knowledge need in the field of architecture and design: Currently, there is no analytical and visual model for ethically evaluating man-made surfaces", she says.
In DEEPSurface, Halland will aim to develop an ethical-analytical framework for understanding the transformative stages of surfaces from 1900 until today. She will use this new framework to work with programmers and designers to make an analytical, digital model in which a large number of surfaces will be mapped and analyzed. This model will be an open-source ethical tool for architecture, developers, and designers for choosing materials and surfaces based on circular principles (e.g. reuse, recycling, and upcycling).
Past and future surfaces
Halland explains that her ongoing research project “How Norway Made the World Whiter” (NorWhite), funded by the Research Council of Norway, explores the unknown Norwegian history of how the white pigment titanium dioxide changed the aesthetics of literally all man-made surfaces.
"The research project has already received global media attention - though in very imprecise manner - and has sparked societal debates about research and politics here in Norway. The project was even up for discussion in the parliament! she says.
"My upcoming research project Deep Surface is a complementary project to NorWhite – in which some of the topics are related – yet NorWhite is a historical project and Deep Surface is future-oriented. In “Deep Surface,” I will assemble an interdisciplinary team to explore future possibilities of man-made surfaces and test my main hypothesis; that aesthetic desire for surfaces can be a key driving force for change".
Global Challenges funding
Recently, Halland was honored to learn that she had received research funding from the initiative Global Challenges from the University of Bergen. The funding allows Halland to invite the young Indian designer and researcher Kshitija Mruthyunjaya to Norway in September 2023 as a part of DEEPSurface.
Mruthyunjaya is working on how to transform toxic mining waste from the Indian titanium dioxide industry using arts-based methods and research-by-design. As a part of DEEPSurface, she will develop a series of prototypes to investigate how the iron oxide sludge can be transformed from toxic to non-toxic by-product that can be incorporated in art, design, construction, and other fields.
Kshitija Mruthyunjaya’s fieldwork photos from the titanium dioxide industry in Chavara, Kerala, India. A part of her project ‘Pigment White: A Web of Global Mutuality’.
"I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to continue my research in dialogue and collaboration with researchers who use creativity as a tool for change making", Halland says.
Exploring how history can become future-oriented
From the very start, Hallands' core research interests have been the arts, architecture, and exhibitions. In the recent years, however, these interests have developed from research topics to methods.
"Working closely with research in architecture and design practice, has changed my research approach. I began working independently with historical analysis, but the last years I have worked more and more collaboratively and creatively across disciplines and sectors".
By collaborating with artists and designers, Halland combines her humanities approaches with methods from with arts-based research, such as artistic research, research-by-design, exhibition-making, and curating.
"I’m driven by finding alternative ways of how history can become future-oriented. If we dare to explore and experiment, I believe the humanities can be a key starting point for finding new, real-life solutions".