Liquid Crystals: A Roundtable

Cubitt, Sean; Candela, Emily; Dicker, Barnaby; Drew, Benedict and Leslie, Esther. 2018. Liquid Crystals: A Roundtable. Journal of Visual Culture, 17(1), pp. 22-67. ISSN 14704129 [Article]

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This Roundtable began life as a public event on the subject of liquid crystals in our visual, material, media, scientific and artistic cultures. The event’s premise was that liquid crystals are the ur-form that constitute and govern Modernity and its after-shocks. For sure this is because the dialectic of liquidity and crystallization, of flow and refraction, is key to the advent of screen-based media (LCD TVs, computers and mobile devices) and thus how we perceive, image and imagine the world. As such, liquid crystals as a ‘phase of matter’ are epochal. But more than this because, while the emergence of such a brave new world is manifestly contemporary and their ‘discovery’ is comparatively recent (1888), the very fact of liquid crystals goes back at least 4.5 billion years: water, for instance, is crystalline and thus our planet, our ecology and we ourselves are always already liquid crystal. Such a self-evident but underacknowledged fact, discerned and foregrounded superbly by Esther Leslie in her recent book Liquid Crystals: The Science and Art of a Fluid Form (2016), becomes an occasion to bring together historians, theorists and practitioners of the convergences of design-science, media-ecology, political-aesthetics, and graphic-technologies. Using Leslie’s book as a
springboard, each of the five contributors, including Leslie herself, were invited to deliver a 10-minute presentation, an opening statement to set the scene, and raise fundamental questions to be considered further in the ensuing discussion. This structure is retained here, along with some of the informality that live conversation affords.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


17 March 2018Accepted
26 April 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

10 May 2018 09:50

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:45

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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