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Uncanny Spaces: Memory and Erasure in Doris Salcedo's Sculpture

Uncanny Spaces: Memory and Erasure in Doris Salcedo's Sculpture
93 Charles St. W., Isabel Bader Theatre, 3rd Floor, Linda Hutcheon Seminar Rm.
Time: Apr 23rd, 4:00 pm End: Apr 23rd, 6:00 pm
Interest Categories: Women & Gender Studies (FAS), Philosophy (UTSC), Philosophy (UTM), Philosophy (FAS), Jewish Studies, German (FAS), English and Drama (UTM), English (UTSC), English (FAS), Critical Theory, Comparative Literature (FAS), Arts, Culture and Media (UTSC), Art (FAS), Architecture, Landscape, Design
Lecture by Rebecca Comay, University of Toronto

The Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University is pleased to announce the third public talk in its annual speakers series. The Theme for the series is Memory(Loss).

Rebecca Comay

Uncanny Spaces: Memory and Erasure in Doris Salcedo’s sculpture

Doris Salcedo is a contemporary Colombian artist whose work is often taken to be a response to decades of violence in her own country – the ongoing conflict between drug cartels, paramilitary armies, government forces, revolutionary guerillas, and organized and unorganized crime; over the past five decades over 200,000 civilians have been murdered and more than five million forcibly displaced from their homes. Most of the bodies of the victims have disappeared (although unidentifiable body parts are often found washed up on the shorelines of the coastal cities); deprived of rituals of burial, along with official public commemoration, they suffer a kind of second death through symbolic obliteration. Salcedo herself explicitly regards her work as a surrogate form of mourning: the artwork functions as a kind of tomb, placeholder, and reminder of a death otherwise unmarked. Salcedo does not represent violence or name the victims, nor does she seek to provide reparation; she neither offers the consolation of beauty nor sentimentalizes suffering by provoking in the viewer the thrill of vicarious sentimental affect. Her work rather seems to confront the predicament of art that Adorno expressed so brutally: on the one hand it is the task of art to commemorate suffering; on the other hand art, by its very existence, is complicitous in this suffering. (Furthermore, every attempt to give voice to this predicament, even to state the aporia, risks embellishing suffering by indulging in the comforts of – merely -- intellectual upheaval.) Salcedo produces strange objects. Often she works with ordinary domestic objects (chairs, tables, wardrobes), architectural elements (doors, or frames), or personal effects (clothes, worn out shoes). Sometimes these objects are grafted together, using improbable materials and producing unlikely combinations. Hair, for example, is used to “sew” tables together; wardrobes are spliced together with chairs, or forced to merge with bedframes. Sometimes furniture is filled with cement, or implanted with a zipper or with scraps of clothing; sometimes grass grows improbably from wooden tabletops; if you look closely you can sometimes see hair or bones lodged in the surface of the wood. It can be unclear whether these objects are being tortured, mended, or preserved. The distinction between architecture and artwork, between container and contents, can become uncertain. Space itself becomes complicated, as does the viewer’s own position and movement within the installation.

This illustrated talk will explore some of the unsettling effects of Salcedo’s work. There’s a spatial confusion between inside and outside, as between surface and depth. There’s a temporal confusion between permanence and transience, as between mobility and immobility. And there’s an array of ontological confusions: between the natural and the artifactual, between the readymade and the manufactured, between the organic and the inorganic, between the human and the inhuman, between persons and things, between the living and the dead. “Uncanny” is one way of describing this elementary confusion.

Recommended Background Reading
Freud, “The Uncanny,” in Standard Edition, vol. 17, and Adorno, “Commitment,” in Notes to Literature.

Rebecca Comay is Professor of Philosophy, Comparative Literature, and Literary Studies, as well as an associate member of Jewish Studies and of the German Department. Professor Comay works at the intersection of philosophy, art, and psychoanalysis, with a special focus on post-Hegelian political philosophy (including Marx, Benjamin, and the Frankfurt School) and contemporary continental philosophy. She is interested in questions of memory, trauma, and the archive, and in particular in exploring the resources of psychoanalysis for social and cultural analysis. Current projects include a project on ruins, revolutionary erasure, and the theological-political idea of the tabula rasa; a project on hypochondria and the end of life (Kant and Proust); and a project on inheritance. Recent publications include Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution (Stanford UP: 2010).

This event is free, but registration is requested.  To register, please RSVP to liza.futerman@mail.utoronto.ca by Monday 20 April to confirm your attendance.  Refreshments will be served.  Space is limited to 15 participants. For further information please consult the event's Facebook page, HERE.

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