CFP Art and Absence, Myers Graduate Symposium at Northwestern University

Caitlin DiMartino's picture
Call for Papers
September 1, 2019 to October 7, 2019
Illinois, United States
Subject Fields: 
Archaeology, Architecture and Architectural History, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Fine Arts

CFP: Art and Absence

Myers Graduate Symposium 2020

Northwestern University Department of Art History, Evanston, IL

Friday, February 28th

Abstracts Due: October 7th, 2019


What is absence and how is it considered or addressed in relation to visual culture?  The modern English term “absence” derives from the Latin ab (“off, away from”) and esse (“to be”), meaning to be away from, or apart from, a state of being. An absence in this sense signals not only the opposite of presence but rather its lack, suggesting a palpable separation from something. Whether as a lacuna, as palpable nonpresence, or as a theoretical concept, artists across time and space have used absence as a stylistic, material, aesthetic, or narrative choice in their work. Furthermore, scholarship on visual culture and the history of art has often relied on the presence of objects, images, archives, and artists. Thus the absence of source material, whether through loss, disregard, or inaccessibility, has ultimately shaped conditions of historicization and has impacted what gets included or excluded in both institutional and cultural memory.

What does it mean to consider absence in relation to material, to context, and to aesthetics? By evoking or addressing absence, what can artists and scholars bring to light in both their work and in the historical record? How is an absence of objects, audiences, or artists understood in relation to interpretation and historiography? In what ways does absence generate affect, and how has unrepresentability, aniconism, and iconophobia functioned in relation to artistic production, use, and interpretation at different historical moments and for different audiences across time and geographical space?

With these questions in mind, the graduate students of the Department of Art History at Northwestern University invite abstracts for their biennial Myers Symposium, “Art and Absence,” that address the intentionally broad and flexible theme of absence. The aim of this symposium is to facilitate dialogue across geographical, temporal, and material subfields as well as across disciplines to approach the question of how art and visual culture, broadly defined, have represented absence, as well as the way scholars grapple with absence as both a theoretical concept and a historiographic problem.


Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:


Artists who explore the concept of absence

Objects that take absence as a quality of their physical or conceptual make-up

Absence of materials

Absence of images

Absence from the historical record

Absence due to damage, decay, or violence

Destruction of cultural patrimony

Archives or archival materials


Absence as hermeneutic


Notion of a lack


Absence as an aesthetic choice

Architecture and empty space

Memory and forgetting

Silence as absence

Absence as resistance


This will be a one-day symposium with roughly nine graduate student speakers from North American universities and will culminate with an invited keynote from a distinguished scholar or artist, to be announced. These speakers will be selected based on abstracts submitted to an open call. Symposium speakers who do not reside locally will receive roundtrip economy airfare to Chicago/Evanston and accommodation in Evanston.


Please email proposals and questions to and by Monday, October 7th, 2019. Please include in your proposal a 300-word abstract and a brief C.V. in a single PDF file. Selections will be announced in late October.