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‘Displacement allows us to see the other side of the coin… It is obviously a position that generates tension and conflict, but I believe that from the position of displacement art derives its most powerful expression.’ — Doris Salcedo.
Tracing the political, personal, and poetic meanings of the term displacement, Dr Catherine Gander, an expert in documentary aesthetics and artistic forms of resistance, explores how, in Doris Salcedo’s artworks, the traumas of displacement take physical form. This lecture and response widens the discussion to include other artists and poets whose work also engages with documentary practices to (re)present ongoing traumatic histories. It considers how, by confronting the corporeal conditions of dislocation, erasure, and precarity, art can refigure displacement as a position of political and cultural resistance.
Presented in the context of the exhibition, Doris Salcedo, Acts of Mourning, showing until 21 July 2019, in the main galleries.
In this response to the exhibition Acts of Mourning, Dr Catherine Gander explores the various ways in which Doris Salcedo crafts an aesthetics of displacement. Tracing the term’s political, phenomenological, and poetic meanings – this lecture considers how Salcedo activates the physical and metaphysical space between the co-ordinates plotted by displacement, giving material form to the traumas of crossing ground from ‘there’ to ‘here’, or from ‘then’ to ‘now’.
‘The first step I take in the making of a work of art,’ Salcedo asserts, ‘is to orient myself toward the victim to whom I address the piece, and whose experience is a pre-requisite for the very existence of the piece.’ This stepping towards the combined subject, inspiration, and recipient of the artwork translates in Salcedo’s work to the viewer of the finished work, whose own body is first disorientated, and then redirected by the artist’s arresting, obstructive installations and remodeled enclosures.
Dr Gander examines the ways Salcedo’s artworks therefore both embody and enact displacement, and widens the discussion to consider other contemporary artists and poets whose work also engages with documentary practices to (re)present ongoing traumatic histories. Drawing on the thinking of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and the poet Paul Celan, both of whom Salcedo acknowledges as profound influences on her work, Dr Gander considers how, by confronting the corporeal conditions of dislocation, erasure, and precarity, art can refigure displacement as a position of political and cultural resistance.
Dr Catherine Gander is the chair of the Irish Association for American Studies, and lectures in American Literature and Visual Culture in the Department of English at Maynooth University, where her research explores the intersections between literature and art, with an emphasis on aesthetic and political counter-narratives.
Over the last ten years, she has worked with galleries and artists in England and Northern Ireland on projects related to re-imagining archival constructions and historical narratives of power—most recently with Belfast Exposed on their Responses to the Archive programme, and as Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded cross-disciplinary project, ‘LGBTQ Visions of Peace in a Society Emerging from Conflict’. She has published on literature, photography and art, including two books, Mixed Messages: American Correspondences in Visual and Verbal Practices (with S. Garland) (Manchester UP, 2016), and Muriel Rukeyser and Documentary: The Poetics of Connection (Edinburgh UP, 2013), and several articles, book chapters, and reviews. She is currently working on an edited volume of essays addressing Don DeLillo and the Visual Arts, and on a study of embodiment as political resistance in contemporary word-image artworks.
Dr Gander’s teaching also addresses cross-medial perspectives on social and cultural realties; some of the works discussed in this talk form part of the curriculum on the Literatures of Engagement Masters programme at Maynooth University, in particular the module she co-teaches with Dr Íde Corley, The Political is Personal: Radical Contemporary Texts. See more details here.
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