The documentary encounter:memory, materiality, and performance in contemporary visual culture

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The documentary encounter:memory, materiality, and performance in contemporary visual culture

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My dissertation is an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural study of what I call the `documentary encounter': that moment when human beings come upon the material objects--such as photographic material, places, and personal effects--through which we are accustomed to constructing our sense of the past. Philosophers such as Jacques Derrida (1995) and Pierre Nora (1989) have contended that the twentieth century was characterized by a need to archive objects. If that is the case, then we could say that the twenty-first century is characterized by a rather different relationship to materiality, one of `waste management.' As our worlds are glutted with more and newer material objects, we are afflicted by a parallel concern for loss and obsolescence. Objects appear out of date as soon as we possess them. Decay suffuses the material world, and proliferates faster than we can stop it. The accelerated obsolescence of technology, global anxieties over toxic dumping, and the widespread recycling of personal effects all indicate that we have entered an age in which the objects that surround us are volatile and resistant to mastery. Rooted in the comparative methods of visual cultures, my research is the first attempt to draw together two fields, Film and Performance Studies, that have been similarly preoccupied by the historiographical concepts of `memory' and `archive', but which have remained largely isolated from one another. Employing a cross-cultural, multi-media approach--focusing on the installations of German-born, Canada-based artist Iris Häussler, a photographic archive depicting my mother's childhood in Puerto Rico, and the ruined architecture of Havana, Cuba--my dissertation weaves together these discourses on memory and the archive and brings them to bear on a chaotic material landscape. In investigating the effects wrought by a changing materiality on contemporary life, I seek to account for a concomitantly shifting landscape of memory, in order to provide an enriched and expanded set of terms for thinking about material culture and memory practices in the present.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. February 2013. Major: Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society. Advisor: Professor Jane Blocker. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 274 pages.

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Aldarondo, Cecilia Isabel. (2013). The documentary encounter:memory, materiality, and performance in contemporary visual culture. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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