Arts at the Lewis center
Princeton Arts Bannerlightbox

“The Surface” Concludes at Princeton University
A collaborative, interactive public art project from the course “Art as Interaction”


Steve Runk     
Director of Communications
Lewis Center for the Arts

A closing event for The Surface, a collaborative, interactive and controversial public art project at Princeton University conceived by students in the Lewis Center for the Arts course “Art as Interaction,” will be held on May 1 at 3:00 p.m. at The Surface on Frist north lawn on the Princeton campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Taught by Program in Visual Arts faculty member Fia Backström, the course focuses on an examination of works from a fairly recent (past ten to 20 years) international tradition in art practice that uses social interaction as its material. Within the context of this tradition, the students in the course initiated their own interactive project entitled, “The Surface,” which engages with the larger Princeton University community.

the surfaceA structure of seven eight-feet-tall panels was installed on April 12 on the north lawn of Frist Campus Center, a frequented outdoor space on campus. The students have been hosting “office hours” during which they remain at The Surface to answer questions and provide visitors with paint and markers with which they can mark the panels per their own personal expression. Visitors have been encouraged to interact with the structure at all times of the day or night. The piece explores the community’s reaction to the question “What can you NOT say at Princeton?” The operative structure of The Surface is similar to artworks such as Them (2008) by Artur Zmijewski and Draftsmen’s Congress (2012, 2014) by Pawel Althamer.

The student creators are Buse Aktas ’14, Mary Lou Kolbenschlag ’14, Kemy Lin ’15, Amber Stewart ’15, and Remi Yamazaki ’14. They have been sharing developments about the project on Facebook and Twitter and created their own website,

The rules for The Surface published by the student creators are: 1) Anyone can write or draw anything on The Surface, 2) Anyone can censor anything written or drawn on The Surface, and 3) The rules are to be enforced by visitors and authorized Appropriators to The Surface, with a note that the rules of The Surface may change at any time.

Text and images immediately were added to the panels which evolved constantly, and within 48 hours of its erection there were two separate physical interventions to The Surface. On Tuesday, April 15th anonymous individuals detached a panel from the free-standing structure. Later the same day University Building Services temporarily removed a separate panel due to its depiction of male genitalia.  Kemy Lin, one of the students involved in the project, noted that Building Services did not contact the students in advance of removing the panel, which was returned to the artistic team with the condition that the “offensive graphics” were painted over. The creators since reinstalled both panels.

On Thursday, April 17, The Daily Princetonian, the campus daily newspaper, published an opinion article on The Surface, and the installation has since continued to receive Princetonian coverage.  The Surface was also covered by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national organization founded in 1999 to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.”

“The Surface engages with the Princeton community by raising different modes of personal, communal as well as institutional interactions,” notes Lin, “Tapping into a range of issues concerning but not limited to campus culture, race, sexuality, education, censorship and freedom of expression.”

The student creators of the project have also recently been hosting “office hours” targeted to populations they see as marginalized, such as people of color. Two separate “appropriations” of The Surface are also taking place, which are described as a collaboration between a campus student group and the creators of The Surface. The Pride Alliance performed the first “appropriation” and the second “appropriation” occurred during Sunday’s Communiversity event in collaboration with the Princeton Committee on Palestine.

The closing ceremony on May 1 will include a panel discussion about the different conversations The Surface has raised in relation to the individual academic interests of the panelists, which include Associate Professor and Acting Chair of Princeton’s Department of German Tom Levin, Assistant Professor Irene Small of the Department of Art and Archaeology, and Alastair Stokes, a graduate student in Princeton’s School of Architecture.

Photo link:
Photo caption: The Surface, a temporary collaborative, interactive public art project installed on the Princeton campus as part of a Program in Visual Arts course, “Art as Interaction.”
Photo credit:  Photo by Kemy Lin ’15


The Lewis Center for the Arts encompasses Princeton University's academic programs in creative writing, dance, theater, and visual arts, as well as the interdisciplinary Princeton Atelier. The Center represents a major initiative of the University to fully embrace the arts as an essential part of the educational experience for all who study and teach at Princeton. Over 100 diverse public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings and lectures are offered each year, most of them free or at a nominal ticket price. The programs of the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts are made possible through the generous support of many alumni and other donors. For more information about the Lewis Center for the Arts, including a complete list of supporters, please visit

princeton university

News Feed | Events Feed | Contact Us | Credits
© 2014 The Trustees of Princeton University