Christensen Distinguished Lecture: Absence as Memory
Stanford, CA 94305
Wu Hung's talk explores the methodological potential of “reading absence.” Here, “absence,” is understood in a dialectical relationship between depicting and de-picting. The general idea is that instead of providing visual information about the subjects represented, certain images, installations, and performances deliberately erase or withhold such information. Since such phenomena are seen throughout the history of world art, we need to explore the reason for creating such works as “empty signs” and their expected reception.
This lecture examines three types of paintings created after the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644. These include a commemorative portrait of a courtesan, pictures of the mausoleum of the founder of the Ming, and images of wordless steles. It demonstrates how these images, though deliberately “empty” in physical and historical specificity, conveyed complex political and psychological meanings at the time of Ming-Qing transition.
Wu Hung is the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Chinese Art History and Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago. An elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has published widely on both traditional and contemporary Chinese art. His major works on traditional art include The Wu Liang Shrine: The Ideology of Early Chinese Pictorial Art (1989), The Double Screen: Medium and Representation in Chinese Painting (1996), and A Story of Ruins: Presence and Absence in Chinese Art and Visual Culture (2012). His major works on contemporary art include Transience: Chinese Experimental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century (1999), Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Politic Space (2005), andContemporary Chinese Artists: Primary Documents (2010).
He has curated many influential contemporary art exhibitions, including The First Guangzhou Triennial (2002),Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China (2004, with Christopher Phillips; New York and Chicago),The Sixth Gwangju Biennale (2006, Korea), and Re-imagining Asia (2009, Berlin).
This lecture is made possible by a generous grant from Carmen M. Christensen.