Accepted Paper:

A Trace That was Never Meant to be: Performance, Ephemerality and the Representation of Political Violence in a Museum Collection  
Lee Douglas (NOVA University Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

Art has long been concerned with making evident acts of violence otherwise unseen. But what happens when artistic practices leave no material trace? I consider how a Spanish Museum grapples with the representational politics of narrating violence through material absence and geographies of distance.

Paper long abstract:

In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean artists developed innovative strategies for making visible the traces of political violence experienced under Pinochet's dictatorship. Mobilizing a rich repertoire of conceptual art practices that reframed the relationship between artists and institutions, members of the avant-garde focused their attention away from the production of objects and towards forms of public action. By performatively activating the details of everyday life, cultural producers brought into being new body-centered forms of artistic language that could evidence not only the bodily absences invoked by the regime's use of forced disappearance, but also those other forms of violent erasure central to the mechanics of dictatorial control. In these art actions, the ephemerality of the artistic trace was key to the political messages of resistance that artists sought to produce.

Drawing on archival and ethnographic research at a national museum in Spain, this paper considers how one art institution grapples with how to represent artistic practices that have left little or no material trace. Unpacking how museum curators describe collection practices, I examine how a European institution's desire to narrate violent pasts and to safeguard forms of cultural memory conflict with the ephemerality of performative artworks that sought to make visible the violence exercised on and through Chilean bodies during the regime. Tracking the curatorial labor of acquisition and display, I analyze how different forms of documentation are activated to piece together memories of artistic resistance and the politics implicit in narrating histories of violence across geographic and temporal distance.

Panel P044
Revealing Histories of Violence: The Representational Politics of Trace