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Shadows of the Present: Generative Ambivalences Across Art, Heritage, and Materiality

Jonas Tinius (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Alice von Bieberstein (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Sharon Macdonald (CARMAH/Department of European Ethnology/Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
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Short abstract:

This panel proposes to examine utopia and temporalities through that which is left in the dark: the ruined, the overlooked, the uncanonical. What is the generative potential of the dystopian, peripheral - those sites, practices, and ideas left in the shadows of the present?

Long abstract:

Responses to global challenges, social change, and utopian visions seldom focus on the shadowy, unseen, or dystopian. We value and aspire to trajectories of progress, clarity, and (decolonial) struggles against oppression and for recognition. But what about the ambivalence of light and the potential of the opaque? This panel highlights anthropological perspectives on unassuming visionaries, micro-utopias, and phantom agencies across the fields of art, heritage, and material culture. Drawing on ethnographic field-research, we wish to juxtapose different considerations of lesser-known, peripheral, or unlikely visionary potential for crafting responses to global challenges. We are interested in the ambivalent potentials and dynamics between light and shadow in the context of art, heritage, and materiality. What happens when counter-hegemonic perspectives become normative; when the uncanonical is suddenly in the spotlight? How are sites, stories, and ideals about heritage and materiality pulled back into the shadow and made to appear illegitimate? Being in the light implies confrontation with visibility, normativity, and intelligibility - and thus not necessarily the most suitable conditions for visionary perspectives on sociality and futurity. We thus want to consider the diverse potentials and ambivalences that lie in the blurry indeterminacy of the shadow: possibilities arising from marginalised and dark materialities in urban regeneration; revisionist nostalgias feeding into old/new exclusionary political dystopias; or artistic practices revelling in dark pasts and dystopian presents. For this panel, we invite proposals exploring the idea of shadows of the present in relation to ethnographic research on art, heritage, and materiality.

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