Academy of Medicine Lecture: Dr. Perry Carter

Art Works: Presencing the Absent through Bearing Witness to the Annihilated at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

This project concerns how memorial art objects radiate affective atmospheres and how these atmospheres touch and move audiences through their presencing of the dead. This presencing of the dead works to implicate audiences into bearing witnesses to atrocities that occurred in the long ago and the not so long ago.  The mechanism for this type of moral witnessing, as MacDonald terms it, relies upon empathy as an unsettling affect. Empathy induces a channeling of the dead and an imagining of their deaths and of their truncated lives. Memory objects, and here aesthetic memory objects, act as agents of empathy. This project regards how these objects, these things, work upon audiences. Simply, the project is about the power of objects, the power of their spatial arrangements, and the power of the landscapes of memory which they constitute and by which they are constituted. 

This project is framed in the work of Jill Bennett (2005) on affect, trauma, and art, and by the work of Gernot Böhme on the art of staging atmosphere. The project’s object of study is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (NMPJ). Opened in 2018, the NMPJ (commonly referred to as the National Lynching Memorial) is the brainchild of Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. The primary ambition of this project is to gain an understanding of how the aesthetic affective materiality of the NMPJ works to create moral witnesses.

Bennett, Jill (2005). Empathic vision: Affect, trauma, and contemporary art. Stanford University Press.

Böhme, Gernot (2013). The art of the stage set as a paradigm for an aesthetics of atmospheres. Ambiances. Environnement sensible, architecture et espace urbain.

Macdonald, Sharon (2010). Difficult heritage: Negotiating the Nazi past in Nuremberg and beyond. Routledge.

Academy of Medicine Lecture

This series was endowed by the non-profit organization Atlanta Medical Heritage, Inc. to establish a lecture series focusing upon the continuing influence of architecture in the classical tradition and its relevance for contemporary architectural research and practice. These annual lectures from prominent practitioners and scholars in the field offer insightful accounts of how new tools are being critically and creatively deployed to reimagine the humanistic tradition in architecture.

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