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Counter-Memorial Aesthetics : Refugee Histories and the Politics of Contemporary Art (Paperback)
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Restrictive border protection policies directed toward managing the flow of refugees coming into neoliberal democracies are a defining feature of contemporary politics. Focusing on Europe, the United States and Australia, this book traces how artists have attempted to address the implementation of such policies and their associated media spectacles, while also analyzing the way in which the punitive treatment and exclusion of the refugee affect conceptions of subjectivity, national identity and the construction of social memory in a globalized world.
Focusing on the work of such artists as Tania Bruguera, Isaac Julien, Rosemary Laing, Dierk Schmidt, Hito Steyerl, Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Veronica Tello argues that their practices represent an emergent paradigm of contemporary art described in the book as 'counter-memorial aesthetics.' Characterized by montage, that is, the conjunction of heterogeneous signifiers of many times and places, counter-memorial aesthetics represents an experimental, non-teleological approach to the construction of contemporary history, which also takes into account the disorienting spatial affects of globalization. The book traces the manifestation of counter-memorial aesthetics across a variety of practices, spanning performance art, experimental 'history painting', aftermath photography and video installation to show the diverse ways that artists not only critically engage with refugee experiences but also work through the politics of this endeavor in the face of government repression, social amnesia or indifference.
Building on the writings of Michel Foucault and many others, the book offers a useful concept of 'counter-memory' for the twenty-first century. It shows how counter-memorial aesthetics might relate to the nexus contemporary art and refugee histories and, more broadly, the complexity of memorializing and being 'present' with global crises in the contemporary era.