Contested Histories, Challenging Memories: Immersive Encounters with the Past, a collaboration with the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism

Curated by Silke Arnold-de Simine (BIRMAC/FMACS), Janet McCabe (BIRMAC/FMACS) and Diana Popescu (Pears Institute) 

Images and sounds from the archive form the backbone of public knowledge of histories of racism, displacement, war and genocide. As they leave the domain of professional historical enquiry, archival materials enter a complex cultural, social and political arena where they fulfil various functions and produce different effects/affects. In contemporary art, archival sounds and images are often summoned to challenge flawed understandings of the past, contested memory narratives, biases and historical distortions.  In museum exhibitions, archival materials are enlarged or downsized, lit or darkened, and framed in space and in relation to other archival materials to construct complex historical narratives. Such curatorial interventions influence viewers’ perceptions of what is central and important about those narratives.  In film projects, black and white archival materials are transformed by processes of colouring which challenge viewers’ perceptions of the passage of time and mediate an emotional encounter with the distant past. Archival images are literally brought to life in historical reenactments. Augmented reality technologies change the way oral testimony are transmitted to younger audiences.

These ‘immersive’ technologies, alongside traditional editing and framing strategies, determine how historical knowledge and the memory of contested pasts are perceived and understood by viewers.

Given the increased use of such strategies,  there is a need to understand more deeply how such processes and technologies of mediation articulate historical meaning, shape understanding of, and emotional responses to, contested histories and crucially convey the relevance of the historical past in the present.

This 3-year initiative has the following aims :

  • to bring together academics and critics, artists, filmmakers and museum professionals to debate the innovative use of aural and visual installations — the reuse, recycling, appropriation and borrowing of archival sounds and images — dealing with contested and difficult histories
  • to develop new interdisciplinary ways of critical thinking about the use of immersive sounds and images in curatorial practice that imagine contested histories in the present
  • to think about what aspects of the human experience sounds and images specifically evoke in contemporary viewers
  • to share empirical insights into how image-, media- and soundscapes in museums and public spaces shape visitors’ emotional engagements, remembering and understanding of difficult, often traumatic and violent pasts.

2018-2019 :

Performativity of Images in the Public Space, with a workshop and screening:  Tuesday 11 June 2019, 13:00-20:30; for podcast of the after screening event, click here

2017-2018 : 

Curating Sound for Difficult Histories : Tuesday 15 May 2018, 14: 00-21: 00


Notes blogs/vlogs :

Diana Popescu, Should memorials do more than keep memory alive? The Jewish Chronicle, published 23 January 2019.