9th Nov 2016 5:00pm-7:00pm

Grand Parade 202


Self-Harming Memorial Architecture: Aesthetics of Death and Void in post-terrorist design

Dr. Charlotte Heath-Kelly (University of Warwick)

What emotional labour is employed within the reconstruction of terrorist sites? This presentation draws from the recently published ‘Death and Security: Memory and Mortality at the Bombsite’ (Manchester University Press) to explore the memorialisation of terrorist sites in Europe and the U.S.A. It argues that these processes of memorialisation are forms of emotional labour used to efface trauma. The trauma of these sudden public slaughters resides, in part, in their deconstruction of the Western subject as a safe, contained, and Cartesian entity. Death deconstructs the individual – literally and figuratively. To reclaim ontological security, memorialisation re-associates each victim with an individual identity and name. They are reclaimed from death’s void and society is provided with emotional closure through the narration of the event. And yet, many contemporary post-terrorist memorials have abandoned the traditional granite form of the war memorial and adopted a new aesthetic of explicitly representing loss, absence and the void of death. What can explain this transition to ‘self-harming memorial architecture’ – where gashes are torn through landscapes, and voids dug into the earth, to bring closure to terrorist events? How does the visual representation of death serve, paradoxically, to overcome death? The presentation concludes by associating this memorial aesthetic with Marx’s commodity fetish, showing how the emotional labour of memorialisation channels all the disruptive resonance of mortality into one over-signified design object. Post-terrorist architecture responds to the necropolitical urge in design, but sublimates this drive with the production of touristed, consumable experience.

Dr. Charlotte Heath-Kelly is an Assistant Professor in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. Her ESRC funded research explores how memorialisation has become a ‘front’ in the War on Terror. In her forthcoming monograph, ‘Death and Security: Memory and Mortality at the Bombsite’, she make this argument by reconceptualising memory practices as social and anthropological responses to mortality.

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