Liquid Crystal Display

Laura Sillars (Curator)

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


The Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) research project, led by Laura Sillars, investigated the LCD screen as a cultural form.

Using museological research methods, art history and media archaeology (Huhtamo and Parikka, 2011), the project sought to deconstruct the LCD device both theoretically and physically, to reveal its inner workings. Moreover, the visual shaping role of the screen was exposed through artworks investigating the visual systems of LCD technology. The liquid crystals themselves, discovered in the 1880s, produce extraordinary visual effects. The harnessing of these materials into the highly compressed glass stack of the LCD screen has geo-political and cultural significance.
Artworks, mineral object sets and science images were brought together for exhibition at Site Gallery, Sheffield and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). These works variously addressed LCD histories, materiality, geo-politics of material extraction, labour, histories of science innovation, colonial structures of exchange still shaping LCD production and the technologies end of life recycling processes. Overall, the project aimed to enable a greater understanding of the role of the LCD in creating visually seductive and arresting images.

Sillars’ research project triangulated media archaeology, museology and art history research methods, to investigate the distinctive visual conditions of liquid crystal display (LCD) screens.

The project output was in the form of two group exhibitions at Site Gallery, Sheffield (2018-2019) and MIMA, Middlesbrough (2019), and a book (ed. Site Gallery’s Sharna Jackson et al) including essays by the lead researcher, Laura Sillars and influential figures, including media theorists Jussi Parikka and Esther Leslie. The exhibition and publication were accompanied by an expansive public programme of events exploring industrial infrastructure, magical machines and animation using biological materials.
Over two hundred object records were built in a database prior to the final corpus of 27 – 40 works selected for each venue. A freestanding hanging device/sculpture was commissioned from artist Anna Barham based on Donna Haraway’s idea that art allowed scientists to make ‘extra-logical’ leaps. Audience research was undertaken to understand how the exhibition informed them (or otherwise) about core ideas of technology, LCDs and media, and this data was used to re-formulate the exhibition for the second iteration. A critical analysis was commissioned by Dr Ele Carpenter.
Media archaeologists research technologies that pre-date our current tools (Crary, 1992; Zielinski, 2008). This project saw research into early C.19th microscopical drawings of polarisation of light through crystals (Edinburgh National Gallery); John Ruskin’s crystals in Museum Sheffield’s collection and The Dorman mineral collection, which serve as exemplars of the predecessors of liquid crystals. Crystals were collected and studied as mineral specimens, but also because they were beautiful and desirable as visual objects.

The world’s first curatorial practice-led research project to investigate LCDs using a media/geological and archaeological methodological approach meant the project was highly original. This project developed understanding into how the LCD’s polarisation of light, the quality of the colours produced, and the screen’s back-lit illumination transform visual material. The project has advanced the field of museum practice that draws on media archaeological methods. It was a case study in New Contemporaries 70th Anniversary Conference in collaboration with The Courtauld Institute (September 2019).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2018


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