Material/Immaterial: The lives (and afterlives) of objects

Lynn M Somers, Independent Scholar & Drew University

Recent work on matter, materiality and materialisms has enriched the study of objects in the aesthetic, and more broadly, cultural spheres. Beyond formal considerations, artists have mined materials as complex, affective carriers of communication (as recent exhibitions of Hilma af Klint, Henry Moore, Ruth Asawa, Claire Falkenstein and Doris Salcedo suggest). But what precisely is the relationship between medium and materiality, the latter of which Michael Ann Holly has called ‘the meeting of matter and imagination’? Panofsky wrote that the melancholy task of humanists ‘isn’t to arrest what would otherwise slip away but enliven what would otherwise remain dead’. How might we understand the powerful tug-of-war between tangible surface and the immaterial – psychological, emotional and memorial – that the ‘stuff’ of objects transmits?

The materiality of the works we study, collect and exhibit are both lost and found, past and present. Equally important, they are embedded to varying degrees with the lives of their makers, carrying their own narratives across time and space in ways that are often difficult to untangle from the stories of people who produced them. Perhaps scholars needn’t shy away from their desires to recapture the ineffable that imaginative endeavours offer. What, for instance, makes one object forgettable and another arresting? There’s a difference, both psychoanalysts and connoisseurs say, between an ordinary object and an evocative one, but the aforementioned questions are open to other sociocultural, anthropological and theoretical inquiries. This panel explores dialogues between material, materiality and making viewed through the lenses of history, philosophy, museology, political theory and practice.


Inside the Black Museum: Evidence, imagination, and the testimony of things
Lela Graybill (University of Utah)

Decentered Space in Claire Falkenstein’s Suns
Elizabeth Buhe (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

The Matter of Darkness: Rothko’s late works as transformational objects
Lynn M. Somers (Drew University)

Immaterial Matter: The politics of subverting ‘feminine’ space(s) in Francesca Woodman’s Some Disordered Interior Geometries
Márcia Oliveira (CEHUM (Centre for Humanistic Studies of the University of Minho, Portugal)

Materiality and Double Disappearance in Doris Salcedo’s Atrabiliarios
Jamie DiSarno (University at Buffalo)

Caring for difference: Finding (after) lives in Tate
Lucy Rose Bayley (Tate)
Hélia Marçal (Tate)




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