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Conference “Identity and Heritage” (Weimar, 16-17 November 2018)

It is the tension inherent in the absence of people, things, places or symbols, which turns loss into a community inspiring force. According to Aleida Assmann, it seems „much more difficult to store gaps, voids and absence than the experience of a presence“ (Assmann, 2006). Current technologies promise the possibility of fully documenting the world. Nothing would be lost. This would lead to something we could think of as a non-biased, total archive, that would be almost impossible to navigate. Contrary to this stands the idea of the classifying archive, which, by definition, is constituted by selection, exclusion and thus by deliberate disposal.

Under the title „Collecting Loss“, the 2nd Annual Conference of the Research Training Group „Identity & Heritage“ asks if and how loss can be collected and stored and how absence can be shown. In order to explore the multiple dimensions of loss, and opposing strategies of collecting, storing, and presenting practices, we are looking for contributions that question the relationship between the concepts of loss, archive, heritage, and identity. The cultural technique of the archive can be understood, according to Foucault, as a „system of statements“, which refer not only to what was said and thought at a certain time, but also to the possibilities and impossibilities of these statements. Central feature of all archives is a systematic ordering. The archival practice of collecting and preserving is a selective process that has diverse and ultimately political implications. This necessarily includes the non-storage („cassation“) as well as the regulation and control of access to the archive. The archive becomes a central factor in securing interpretive sovereignty – „Show Me Your Archive and I Will Tell You Who Is In Power,“ as the project „Kiosk Gallery“ puts it in a nutshell.

Within this conceptual framework, the conference will focus on the following topics:

1. Forcible losses can linger in the community of the deprived for a long time. A loss is not forgotten within the community, it is kept alive in the communicative memory and passed on through written/verbal or non-verbal transmission throughout generations. Traumatic experiences of loss, such as those caused by the genocides of the 20th century, are kept present in order to avert such crimes in the future, but also to be able to continue to process the trauma of the victims. The prerequisite for this, however, is the possibility of being able to articulate or allow loss individually or collectively. If something is lost that has no value for us, we will not address the loss as such. However, it is conceivable that others will judge its value differently. It is therefore important to scrutinize the social framework of loss, which must be specified in each case: active commemorating, active prevention of commemoration, and passive forgetting are not freely selectable options. What are the different functions and meanings of the archive within the described context?

2. The claim of identity loss(es) in contemporary societies is accompanied, according to Stuart Hall, by a “fleeting multiplicity of possible identities“(Hall, 1994). Are archives, therefore, arbitrary construction kits for identity(s)? To what extent can archives be used to create new possible identities or to modify existing ones and if so, by whom are they created? Is it possible to create archives from scratch, or is it all about transforming and updating existing archives?

3. At present, we are confronted with the systematic destruction of cultural heritage, which is documented in the media in unprecedented accuracy. Rebuilding plans for the expected post-war period claim to ‚heal‘ these losses. These claims raise several questions: how can material and social loss be assessed? Who evaluates loss, who evaluates whose loss and how? How are loss of material cultural heritage and reconstruction medialised, and what kind of influence does the medialisation have on the discourse? How is loss perceived by different social groups, such as exile communities, researchers or artists? How is loss documented and who documents it? Who runs the archives, who owns them? What potential do participatory archives and community archivists have to reflect the views and voices of marginalized groups?

4. The archive organizes the collected material and, by doing so, it is supposed to represent the world: there is „no archive without outside“ (Derrida, 1997). Conversely, everything in the world should have a substitute in the archive. The archive ensures that the documents are not lost, and archivists develop operative procedures to secure them. If there is loss outside of the archive, if it takes place in the world, where in the archive is the place for this loss? You cannot keep something, which is not there, can you? Isn’t the archive, which is supposed to be a counter force against forgetting and disappearance, actually incompatible with loss? How can we understand the interaction between the informational content and the storage processes of the archive? How is loss thought about and constructed in the archive? How do archives deal with their own losses or gaps ? And what would the loss of an entire archive mean?

5. Non-scientific approaches to the visualization of loss – such as artistic and filmic approaches – extend the semantics and pragmatics of remembering to aspects of empathy and emotionality. In addition, the focus of conceptual artistic work is often the questioning of archives and their objectivity. Besides collecting and storing, the act of documenting can trigger story-telling, enable audiovisual experiences of historical moments, bring the marginalized to the fore and thus activate other narrations. How can such processes be recorded and evaluated in a scientific/academic analysis? How do scholarly/scientific and non-scientific practices of collecting and storing relate to each other? Where is the line between non-scientific and academic archive analysis, and is the archive used in different ways? What do documentary strategies for ephemeral works of art look like, and how are these strategies, which counteract the ephemeral nature of the work being reflected?

We are looking for contributions that deal critically with these questions and issues. Panels will be organized based on the accepted proposals. We would like to create an active exchange among the participants and therefore encourage submissions from different disciplinary fields.

Presentations will be based on pre-circulated papers and should not exceed 20 minutes. Please submit an abstract (300 words) and a CV via email by May 25, 2018 to Simone Bogner, cfp[at]identitaet-und-erbe.org.

Accepted speakers will be notified on 18 June 2018. The deadline for submitting the papers is October 19, 2018.

The conference languages are German and English. Travel allowances are available.

Contact Info:
TU Berlin, Research Training Group 2227 “Identity and Heritage”
Simone Bogner, cfp@identitaet-und-erbe.org

Contact Email: cfp@identitaet-und-erbe.org

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