CFP Art and Absence, Northwestern Department of Art History Myers Graduate Symposium

CFP: Art and Absence
Myers Graduate Symposium 2020
Northwestern University Department of Art History, Evanston, IL
Friday, February 28th
Abstracts Due: October 15th, 2019

What is absence and how is it considered or addressed in relation to visual culture? The modern English term “absence” derives from the Latin ab (“off, away from”) and esse (“to be”), meaning to be away from, or apart from, a state of being. An absence in this sense signals not only the opposite of presence but rather its lack, suggesting a palpable separation from something. Whether as a lacuna, as palpable nonpresence, or as a theoretical concept, artists across time and space have used absence as a stylistic, material, aesthetic, or narrative choice in their work. Furthermore, scholarship on visual culture and the history of art has often relied on the presence of objects, images, archives, and artists. Thus the absence of source material, whether through loss, disregard, or inaccessibility, has ultimately shaped conditions of historicization and has impacted what gets included or excluded in both institutional and cultural memory.
What does it mean to consider absence in relation to material, to context, and to aesthetics? By evoking or addressing absence, what can artists and scholars bring to light in both their work and in the historical record? How is an absence of objects, audiences, or artists understood in relation to interpretation and historiography? In what ways does absence generate affect, and how has unrepresentability, aniconism, and iconophobia functioned in relation to artistic production, use, and interpretation at different historical moments and for different audiences across time and geographical space?

With these questions in mind, the graduate students of the Department of Art History at Northwestern University invite abstracts from all disciplines and subfields for their biennial Myers Symposium, “Art and Absence,” that address the intentionally broad and flexible theme of absence. The aim of this symposium is to facilitate dialogue across geographical, temporal, and material subfields as well as across disciplines to approach the question of how art and visual culture, broadly defined, have represented absence, as well as the way scholars grapple with absence as both a theoretical concept and a historiographic problem.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

Artists who explore the concept of absence
Objects that take absence as a quality of their physical or conceptual make-up
Absence of materials
Absence of images
Absence from the historical record
Absence due to damage, decay, or violence
Destruction of cultural patrimony
Archives or archival materials
Absence as hermeneutic
Notion of a lack
Absence as an aesthetic choice
Architecture and empty space
Memory and forgetting
Silence as absence
Absence as resistance

This will be a one-day symposium with roughly nine graduate student speakers from North American universities and will culminate with an invited keynote from a distinguished scholar or artist, to be announced. These speakers will be selected based on abstracts submitted to an open call. Symposium speakers who do not reside locally will receive roundtrip economy airfare to Chicago/Evanston and accommodation in Evanston.

Please email proposals and questions to and by Tuesday, October 15h, 2019. Please include in your proposal a 300-word abstract and a brief C.V. in a single PDF file. Selections will be announced in early November.