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Memory and Materialism

Audience at University of WestminsterThe 4th Mnemonics Summer School Memory and Materialism was organised by Lucy Bond (Westminster), Rick Crownshaw (Goldsmiths), Jessica Rapson (King’s College) and Anna Reading (King’s College) together with King’s College London, Goldsmiths, as well as the University of Westminster. Considering the current ‘material turn’ in the humanities and social sciences, this year’s summer school dedicated itself to the temporal, spatial and material aspects of human and non-human life and matter. There were panels on “Material Hierarchies”, “Material Conflicts”, “Telling Objects”, “Bodies”, “Urban Materialities”, “Materiality in the Visual Arts”, “Marginalised Materialities” and “Narratives of Materiality”. These panels sought to investigate the connection between memory and materiality from a variety of disciplines with established as well as more recent theoretical concepts.

Ursula K. Heise lectureFour keynote lectures provided insights into cutting-edge research in memory studies and neighbouring fields. In “The Silent Mechanics of Extinction”, Ursula K. Heise (UCLA) analysed the discourse defining our time as the age of mass extinction. She demonstrated how artworks engage with this challenge by recording or imagining animal sounds that are on the verge of extinction or already extinct. In “That Speechless Past”, Alex Warwick (Westminster) undertook a wider critique of the theoretical foundations of some approaches of the ‘new materialist turn’ and their suitability for memory studies. She asked whether things that were never forgotten could be remembered and whether things that were never known could be forgotten. In “Energy for Memory: Mining Business Archives, Corporate Memory and Workers’ Stories in the UK and Brazil”, Joanne Garde-Hansen (Warwick) presented the complex memory work of researchers who are involved with governmental organisations, corporations and non-governmental organisations. She highlighted the intricate and conflictuous negotiations in the endeavour to (re-)turn the human body to the centre of these engagements. In the last keynote lecture “Climate Change and the Art of Anticipatory Memory”, Stef Craps (Ghent) analysed developments in recent dystopian films and writings on climate change and the narrative techniques they employ to tackle this challenge. These works, he argued, create anticipatory memories to narrate a time in the future, when human extinction might be remembered and mourned.

In the eight panels, PhD candidates from numerous countries presented their fields of research and opened them to broad and engaging discussions. Participants from the Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform (FMSP) included Astrid Erll, Erin Högerle, Jarula M.I. Wegner, and Engie Zhang. Astrid Erll chaired the panel on “Telling Objects” and engaged in panel discussions on publishing, where she presented the de Gruyter series Media and Cultural Memory. In “Object Communication and Memory Construction in the Migration Film”, Erin Högerle provided first insights regarding her dissertation project on transcultural memory in diasporic film (which is part of the Frankfurt-based DFG-project on “Migration and Transcultural Memory”). She examined how material objects in Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet (1993) may embody, manipulate, and construct memory in the service of coherent family narratives. In “Material Marginality: The Sonic Texture of Reality Rap”, Jarula M.I. Wegner discussed the particular emphasis of materiality in the genre of reality rap. He argued that this genre exhibits a certain kind of materiality and engagement with it, which often signifies a marginal social position. FMSP would like to thank the organisers and their institutions for this engaging and thought-provoking summer school.

For more information about the Mnemonics Graduate Summer School 2015 “Memory and Materialism” follow the link here.