Oriental Interiors: Identity, Performance, Space

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Dr. John Potvin, Concordia University
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Since the publication of Edward Said's ground breaking Orientalism 35 years ago, numerous studies have explored the West's fraught long-lasting fascination with the so-called Orient. These studies have focused their critical attention on the literary and pictorial arts, often forgetting the importance material culture and space has played in the formation of perceptions and receptions of the exoticized Other. This volume specifically seeks to explore the perceptions, importations and adaptations of Oriental interiors to and within a Western context. Orientalist spaces took numerous and varied forms, whether private or public, civic, domestic or commercial, all of which are of interest here. Examples abound and include the following: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's vivid travel reportage; Pierre Loti's extravagantly sumptuous home in Rochefort (France); adapted Turkish baths in western metropolitan centres; the celebrated Arab Hall in Leighton House (London); James Abbott McNeill Whistler's lush Peacock Room (London); Jean-Léon Gérôme's, Ludwig Deutsch's or Frederick Arthur Bridgman's monumental painted interior landscapes; couturier Paul Poiret's exotic design studio Atelier Martine; and Italian designer Giorgio Armani's Asian inspired boutiques and furniture and interior design studio Armani/Casa. What these interiors share in common is a desire to elaborate a commingling of East and West. As a theoretical starting point, the volume wishes to view these interiors and their authors beyond a binary, moralizing template that has long portrayed the East as victim, with the West as its invasive and omnipresent oppressor. This is not to suggest that tensions, inequities and violence are absent from these exchanges. Rather, I wish to conceive of the various case studies as a whole as products of hybridity, forging new spatial and conceptual possibilities. As Homi Bhabha (1990) has posited, hybridity provides for 'new positions to emerge. The third space displaces the histories that constitute it'. These interiors are often tied into inchoate or particularized expressions of gender, race, class and sexuality, informed by and informing the designs of the interior as much as by its inhabitants. This volume will, as a result, attend to the complex ways in which identities are performed, negotiated, designed and spatialized.

The spatial regime of hybridity runs the full gamut between interiors which deploy Oriental motifs as either surface treatments or furnishing accessories embedded into a pre-existing aesthetic program or are constructed in what I liken to a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total expression and experience wherein fashion, design, bodies and/or food are deployed to aggrandize, attenuate, enhance or particularize the exoticism, authenticity and/or pleasures of so-called Oriental space and design. In either extremes, the space's culture is transitive, the product of a constellation of cultural translation and transnational communication.

I invite essays for a volume that attend to actual, visual and/or theoretical spaces. I seek new, previously unpublished essays on material ranging from the 18th century to the present with a final word count of 5,000 words (inclusive). Ideally you should count on obtaining 3 images for your essay. Authors will be responsible for procuring the necessary copyright and assume reproduction costs required by respective institutions. Required for this initial stage is a 300 word abstract detailing the premise, theoretical and methodological parameters and objects to be explored in addition to a 150 word biography and cv. Please submit these materials no later than 15 December 2013. Final essays will be expected by 01 July 2014.