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Sites of Memory in Contemporary Art


Prof. Christa‐Maria Lerm Hayes

Members of the research group

Staff members and PhDs from Modern and Contemporary Art History, as well as guests. In detail (alphabetically):

Dr. Tessel Bauduin

Florian Göttke

Dr. Roel Hijink

Frank Maess

Soheila Najand

Dr. Anja Novak

Prof. Gregory Sholette

Strijd ¥ exhibition group (Sepp Eckenhaussen, Emily Rhodes, Cristina Buta)

Francesca Verga

Marie Yasunaga

Dr. Veronika Zangl

Description of the research programme of the research group

We meet bimonthly to read texts, discuss progress on research projects etc. The questions we are asking include:

How does contemporary art remember in the post‐monument era? And how is that memory mediated, when it is captured in gesture and ephemeral media or temporary / exhibition projects? Traditional art‐historical accounts and exhibition formats seem to require modification if they are to match the more subtle ambitions and strategies of the artworks, which themselves frequently take a written / fictional format. How can artists with a focus on memory today draw on fictionality/fabulation? The obsession with memory in the past decades has pointed to the Archive ('Archival Impulse' - Hal Foster), the document (obsession with photography and its inclusion in the arts) and history. After the exhibition and publication Archive Fever: The use of document in contemporary art (Okwui Enwezor, 2009), however, the topic of memory in contemporary art is being addressed in different modes. How do contemporary artists now position themselves in relation to memory? And how can sites (lieux, city, home) of remembrance be included in this analysis? 

This research group gathers interdisciplinary scholars, art historians, curators and artists around the cluster of issues that lie between: memory; art writing/conceptual writing; gesture/performance and the theory and practice of (art) exhibitions in this field. As a pointer to themes that would fit underneath this roof – but by no means as an exclusionary framework – some indicative topics shall be mentioned:

  • The suitability of art‐historical approaches (e.g. Aby Warburg) to contemporary performance dealing with (traumatic) memory through gesture.
  • Memory in and through word and image relations: W.G. Sebald’s, Samuel Beckett’s and/or James Joyce’s works in relation to visual art on post‐war themes.
  • A historiographical comparison between art‐historical writing, art writing, conceptual writing and artists’ books as strategies for bearing and mediating memory. 
  • A history and investigation of the uses of art in exhibitions on (traumatic) memory. 
  • A historical, theoretical and contextual assessment of the shifts between illustrative / commodified and autonomous approaches by artists / curators / writers to memory and social efficacy
  • A (diachronic) comparison between regionally specific cultures of memory in art and / or exhibitions.

PhD projects and collaboration on conferences / events of relevant organizations and associations are welcome.

Work plan and time schedule

Work plans for the period 2014 – 2018:

  • Gregory Sholette: PhD entitled Delirium and Resistance: Activist art and the Crisis of Capitalism: “The archive has split open. We are its dead capital. It is the dawn of the dead,’ thus concluded Gregory Sholette’s 2010 book Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. Since that time waves of progressive cultural activists have emerged on the world stage to challenge neoliberal capitalism, from Wall Street and the streets of St. Louis to the squares of Cairo, Madrid, Damascus, Moscow and Athens. Although neoliberalism is more aggressive than ever, its administrators seem increasingly unable to anticipate and regulate the backlash against predation, as the dark matter of popular resistance is forced into the light. Developed in dialogue with artists’ collectives, counter-institutions and activist groups, Delirium and Resistance reflects some thirty years of critical debates and practices that, amid a growing crisis of art, have worked with the aim of realising art’s capacity for engendering resistance. Sholette has experienced this journey first-hand, working as a critic, theorist, curator and activist, with each of these roles integral to his practice as an artist.”
  • Also: Special Issue: Living Labor: Marxism and Performance Studies. Ed. Joshua Lubin-Levy and Aliza Shvarts, Women & Performance, a journal of feminist theory 26: 3-4 (Updated reprint of published essay, Spring 2017). 
  • PhD on Mike Kelley (Francesca Verga) - The PhD is on the conceptual reorganization of memory (personal and collective) in Kelley’s works, such as 'Educational Complex' (1995), 'Day is Done' (2010) and earlier performances and video works.    
  • Florian Göttke: PhD entitled Burning Images: performing effigies as political protest. Using the Internet as an unstable archive of the news media, Göttke investigates the poetics and politics of an archaic image practice, which is activated to contest power relations in a wide variety of contemporary conflicts. Burning effigies in political protests produces media images of violent death, enabling the protesters to communicate their anger across cultural borders in the current globalized media environment. The varied genealogies of the practice indicate a complication of the prevalent monochronic conception of globalization's temporality and the hierarchies it imposes.
  • Post-doctoral work on the reception of the Middle Ages in Modernist art. (Tessel Bauduin)
  • Further publications / funding application on holocaust memorials (Roel Hijink)
  • PhD on the work of Royden Rabinowitch (Frank Maess)
  • Artistic and organizational work on societal transformation / communing (Soheila Najand)
  • Various outcomes and funding application on Dutch Land Art (Anja Novak)
  • Further post-doctoral work on the theory and practice of curating Non-Western art (Marie Yasunaga)
  • Various outcomes on humour in socio-politically activist art (Veronika Zangl)
  • One or more (differently focused) exhibition(s) on Samuel Beckett and visual art – with Dr. Derval Tubridy, Goldsmiths College, London, resulting also in a publication, workshops/conference(s).

Societal relevance

It is important for societies to reflect on (their) (traumatic) memories, in order to build a mature, democratic culture. Contemporary artists, directly or indirectly, engage in such societal meaning‐making. The mediation of that analysis (through writing and exhibitions) is in turn required for it to become part of, or indeed lead, debates that will transcend narrow art‐world concerns. Understanding (one’s) histories is a pre‐requisite for a healthy, productive and epistemologically advanced (intelligent, creative, motivated, actively innovative) life of both an individual and a society. It is important, however, to stress that societal relevance will be diminished if merely sought for instrumental ends.