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Things to Remember: Materializing Memories in Art and Popular Culture (June 5-6, 2014)

Memory matters. It matters because memory brings the past into the present, and opens it up to the future. But it also matters literally, because memory is mediated materially. Materiality is the stuff of memory. Meaningful objects that we love (or hate) function not only as aide-mémoire but as memory itself.

The international conference Things to Remember: Materializing Memories aims to explore a sustained focus on the materiality in and of memory. Such a focus helps to understand memory as a vibrant process, by analysing the active, creative and popular forms of remembering and forgetting. At the same time a materialist focus entails recognising certain forms of agency in material objects. As Bill Brown argues, a culture constitutes itself through its inanimate objects: ‘culture as it is objectified in material forms'. In this conference we want to draw cultural memory into the discourse of ‘new materialism', inquiring how we remember with and through things. Here we avoid simple dualisms by foregrounding the intersections between the material and immaterial, natural and cultural, living or inert. Things make us remember (and forget), yet we also use things to bring about remembrance or forgetfulness. We therefore argue that memory is both mental and material.

The conference foregrounds the materiality of memory by investigating the vital relations between past and present, absence and presence, and remembrance and object. We thus interrogate the material transfers through which cultural memories of the past are expressed and circulated in art, media and popular culture. These transfers produce, re-present and transform mediated memories, literally giving shape to them in words, images, and objects. The conference pays as much attention to how we remember, create and re-create memories as to what we remember. Cultural memory is taken as both an active process and a dynamic practice. In such processes and practices of remembering, objects and things are endowed with meaning, agency and affect. As Bergson put it poetically, recollection is like ‘a fold in a material'. This raises the question how cultural memory plays a role in the social and cultural life of objects. Or, vice versa, what is the role that material things and objects play in ‘doing' memory? That role will entail a study of the interaction between the materiality of memory, its affective nature, and its ideological frameworks. The conference will explore how memory unfolds time in its objectified materializations, both looking forwards and backwards, and realizing the affective dimensions of the here and now.

Deadline for paper proposals: January 7, 2014