Creative Approaches to Memory NUBS 4.20
Jul 05, 2023 11:00 - 12:30(Europe/London)
20230705T1100 20230705T1230 Europe/London 3.10. Cultivating the Implicated Witness: Aesthetic Interventions and Commemorative Pedagogy

This panel examines different aesthetic interventions that mobilize commemorative-pedagogical practices to address legacies of continuing injustice. Engaging with memorials, film, artistic montage, photography, and literature, the panel explores how these aesthetic objects encourage us to rethink unsettled events and their transactional (affective) claim on our present. The objects reference 1) the homeless crisis in Toronto; 2) Black diasporic histories; 3) the assassination of Patrice Lumumba; 4) migrant suffering and detention at the US southern border and Japanese American Internment. But, in contrast to the spectacle of injustices often presented by mainstream reporting, in which events pass by without really mattering or only stirring our pity momentarily, the papers explore how aesthetic objects can open other temporalities and ways for making sense of difficult events.The papers propose that aesthetic objects can encourage us to transform the de-realized, fleeting, and inconsequential way we tend to receive difficult events into a witnessing practice that more justly registers social suffering, as well as allowing us to sense our historical implication. We thus explore how aesthetic objects can activate a pedagogical commemorative practice or, more precisely, a "transactional sensibility" (Simon, 2016) in which images and stories of others can move us to sense our historicity and obligations to those who have been abjected from the world – those who have been rendered invisible, dispossessed, and not worthy of "our" time.Through a trans-disciplinary and nuanced approach, this panel shares three concerns. Firstly, the papers consider how aesthetic objects can engender a sense of community through our gathering together around common things or in common s ...

NUBS 4.20 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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This panel examines different aesthetic interventions that mobilize commemorative-pedagogical practices to address legacies of continuing injustice. Engaging with memorials, film, artistic montage, photography, and literature, the panel explores how these aesthetic objects encourage us to rethink unsettled events and their transactional (affective) claim on our present. The objects reference 1) the homeless crisis in Toronto; 2) Black diasporic histories; 3) the assassination of Patrice Lumumba; 4) migrant suffering and detention at the US southern border and Japanese American Internment. But, in contrast to the spectacle of injustices often presented by mainstream reporting, in which events pass by without really mattering or only stirring our pity momentarily, the papers explore how aesthetic objects can open other temporalities and ways for making sense of difficult events.

The papers propose that aesthetic objects can encourage us to transform the de-realized, fleeting, and inconsequential way we tend to receive difficult events into a witnessing practice that more justly registers social suffering, as well as allowing us to sense our historical implication. We thus explore how aesthetic objects can activate a pedagogical commemorative practice or, more precisely, a "transactional sensibility" (Simon, 2016) in which images and stories of others can move us to sense our historicity and obligations to those who have been abjected from the world – those who have been rendered invisible, dispossessed, and not worthy of "our" time.

Through a trans-disciplinary and nuanced approach, this panel shares three concerns. Firstly, the papers consider how aesthetic objects can engender a sense of community through our gathering together around common things or in common spaces. Bringing us together through objects of concern encourages us to develop a more complex, interconnected, and multi-directional approach to history and memory. Moreover, such collective imaginings and memory work help to forge solidarity and communal historical praxis of contestation against neo-liberal logics, hegemonies of history, and facile narratives of "truth." Secondly, the panel considers how aesthetic objects afford us with a form of witnessing that "sees" and gives time to the discarded and forlorn. In this way, the objects act as a kind of "testimony" that shows and represents what doesn't otherwise appear or what has been purposely disappeared: histories and lives below the threshold of visibility, the counter-memory, the archives that don't hold the evidence, the maps without the locations. Moving beyond the economy of spectacle and aiming to grapple with the gaps and ruptures in history, the papers further concern themselves with questions of ethical approaches to representation. Thirdly, the panel considers how aesthetic objects can move viewers or readers to care for (extend time to) those who have been historically dispossessed, whereby the wronged return to face us and begin to matter for us in our present. Such a move, we propose, further entails our attending to our own implication in the ongoing legacy of the historical wrongs. The concern here is with how we might transform ourselves from consumers of spectacle to implicated witnesses.



Tim Martin 

Organizing remembrance: Publicness and solidarity building through commemorative practice at the Toronto Homeless Memorial

In Canada, as social assistance and public housing programs were gutted in the 1980s and 90s, activists sought to make visible the material effects of such decisions. At the root of housing activism in Canada, there are longstanding efforts to commemorate those who have fallen victim to this violence. For over 20 years, the Toronto Homeless Memorial has provided a public forum for aesthetic and performative interventions that make present the encounters with mourning and loss (Salvio, 2017; Santner, 1993). The paper engages with how the Homeless Memorial is a site of/for bearing witness to the ongoing crises associated with dehousing (Hulchanski et al., 2009), but how it also supplies the terrain for solidarity building and new forms of collective imagining amidst such counter hegemonic activist movements. I conceive of the memorial as the organization of a "polis"-what Hannah Arendt (1958) describes as "a kind of organized remembrance" (p. 198). Amidst individualism and alienation from public life, Arendt (1958) reminds us that only through the "presence of others" (p. 199) are the conditions of reality and remembrance sustained. I ask, what role does public commemoration serve in contesting neoliberalism's tendency to destroy the political and weaken collective solidarity? The paper thus traces the ongoing work of solidarity building through commemorative practice, the ways in which neoliberal rationality undermines rapport, and the role of memory in cultivating publicness. Of significance is exploration of how The Toronto Homeless Memorial offers both a dynamic monument in process as well as an iterative site of commemorative engagement and public pedagogy. It is the latter that I mine in this paper for the way particular ceremonial customs and performative moments sustain publicness, relationality, and contingency amidst the housing crisis.


Warren Crichlow

What happens to a dream deferred: Counter-memory Aesthetics in Isaac Julien Once Again (Statues Never Die)

Before Roland Barthes (1980) imbued the photograph with a quality of "counter-memory," Michel Foucault (1971) conceptualized "contra/counter-history" politically, turning to forgotten social movements and minor narratives as critical method to contest hegemonies of official history (Demos, 2012). In this paper I employ counter-memory to discuss Isaac Julien's (2022) multi-screen installation, Once Again (Statues Never Die). Expanding multi-screen architecture and non-linear montage characteristic of his recent works (e. g., Lina Bo Bardi-A Marvelous Entanglement, 2019 and Lessons of the Hour-Frederick Douglass, 2019), Julien's Once Again activates Dr. Alain Locke (1885-1954), early twentieth century African American philosopher, cultural critic, and intellectual provocateur of the Harlem Renaissance (Mercer, 2022). Figuring Locke's relationship to Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) the early white American collector of African material culture (Clark, 2015), and proponent of "interculturalism," Julien visualizes the underlying racialized hierarchy of "primitivism" that informed early European modernist art. Here Julien evokes both Chris Marker's 1953, Statues Also Die and the poetics of restitution that contests Western museums today. While addressing the work's specific historical conceit, the paper primarily responds to the complexity of Julien's visual and sonic work, indeed his immersive sensorial assemblage practice, that effects a mosaic genealogy of counter-memory. I suggest that like much of Julien's work, particularly since Looking for Langston (1989), Once Again works through contingencies of memory study while rigorously attuned to formal aesthetic innovation required to re-present Black diasporic histories otherwise (Banning and Crichlow, 2020).


Lara Okihiro and Mario Di Paolantonio

Deserted Memories: Traveling through the historical wasteland in Shimotakahara's After the Bloom, and Luiselli's Lost Children Archive

Memories have an uncanny way of being related to and implicated in each other. They form though and against other memories of events and injustices that often have been deserted in history (Rothberg, 2009). Analysing Leslie Shimotakahara's After the Bloom (2017) and Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive (2019), this paper considers two family road trips into deserts. One, the California desert where the mother had been interned, like other Japanese Americans and Canadians, during WWII; the other, the Arizona desert against the backdrop of the dispossession of Indigenous Americans and the plight of (child) migrants crossing the border. Exploring how the fictional journeys into history and memory invoke a complex dynamic of memory and interpretation, we argue that the texts forge a constellation and association of different historical injustices in a way that rubs the past against the present and indicates our present implication. Supplementing our readings of the novels with Richard Misrach's photographs taken at the US Southern border desert and tracing the aesthetic care he extends to the scattered debris that riddle this supposed "wasteland," we further argue, that the novels and photographs of apparently empty sites (bulldozed camps and communities, scattered and disintegrating garbage of migrant lives) still function as holders of memories. These memories connect across time and events, particularly as the sites continue to retain material traces of the past (buried photographs and overlooked artefacts) that can affectively resurface in the present. Drawing on Bill Brown's discussion (2010) of the value of things, we consider how fictional artefacts and images can "fill in" for material objects when state induced violences erase, lose, scatter, or destroy the historical referent. At issue is a consideration of how such artefacts might be able to cure the pervasive disregard that we have for what has been discarded in the wasteland of history, how the thing that stories and images afford us helps to rescue the embedded historicity (associations and multi directionality) within this forlorn desert landscape.

PhD Candidate
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York University, Toronto
Associate Professor
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York University, Faculty of Education
Independent Researcher / Writer / University of Toronto
Associate Professor
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York University, Toronto
Associate Professor
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York University, Toronto
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