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36ème Congrès du CIHA - Lyon 2024

Parrainé par le Ministère de la Culture,
le Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche,
le Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères

Materialising Loss: Absence and Remaking in Art History

Francesca Borgo 1, Felicity Bodenstein 2

Bibliotheca Hertziana - Rome (Italy), 2Sorbonne Université - Paris (France)

Sujet en anglais / Topic in english

The material turn in art history has reinstated a sensibility for the “thingness” of things (Brown 2001), the properties of their constitutive materials (Ingold 2007), and the activity of their matter (Miller & Poh 2022; Latour 1991; Gell 1998; Bennett 2010). More recently still, interest has extended beyond making and materials: processes of unmaking, deterioration, care, and preservation have become subjects of investigation, accompanied by growing critical engagement with conservation (Fowler & Nagel 2023) and increasing attention to the behaviour of matter across the deep time of geological history (Borgo & Venturi, CIHA 2019).

But what happens when, despite all our best efforts to conserve, protect, and make last, things disappear? Taking this question as its starting point, we invite papers that reconsider matter and materiality from an unusual point of view: the object’s loss or inaccessibility, and the practices undertaken to compensate for its absence, via physical replicas or virtual reconstructions. In centering itself on what has long been considered an epistemological endpoint in art historical studies – the disappearance of the original object – the session proposes a critical assessment of material and virtual remaking as site of art- historical knowledge. It asks how we might integrate that knowledge into the analytical methods of art history.

Looking at materiality from the seemingly paradoxical standpoint of absence reveals how much material studies takes for granted in terms of the object’s presence, permanence, and accessibility. Loss forcefully confronts us with the enabling operations and grounding conditions that go into writing material art history. It permeates everything we do, and yet it is distinctively undertheorized (Fricke & Kumler 2022). What are the stakes of absence and reclamation? How do art historians deal with missing evidence, and how does its resurfacing or remaking change the canon and the narrative? Whose loss is worth talking about and why? The threats of war, climate change and mass tourism give these questions a pressing relevance today, amplified by debates over sustainability, inclusion, and property rights. But art history seems sceptical of efforts to work against these risks: despite recent calls for ‘militant reproductions’ (Bredekamp 2016), campaigns to widen the notion of originality (Lowe & Latour 2010) and emphasize the seriality of the Classic (Settis & Anguissola 2015), and appeals to the greater inclusivity of digital heritage (Terras 2022), much of the discipline remains ambivalent about the remade, regarding it as ludic and nostalgic.

We live in a world in which heritage is constantly de- and re-materialized, formed and reformed in an unprecedented interplay between the material, immaterial, and neomaterial. And although the implications for objects and their histories are manifold, they remain largely unexplored. This session aims at remedying that imbalance, reflecting on the impact of physical loss on material art history and examining the value of remaking as historical method.