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“You can never go home again: the art of catastrophe and migration”

Wright, Terence (2007) “You can never go home again: the art of catastrophe and migration”. In: Moving Cultures, Shifting Identities, Adelaide, Australia. na. [Conference contribution]

PDF (Conference programme)


The paper takes its initial line of enquiry from Julian Barnes’ novel A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, where he poses the question ‘How do you turn catastrophe into art?’ From this standpoint the paper considers two reactions to disaster which appear to stem from emotional responses: escape (and consequential migration) and the production of artworks. I propose that these two courses of action: to flee and to create something (thatamounts to a commentary on the disaster) are related. Both appear to be instinctive human responses to, and ways of coping with, catastrophic events.On the one hand, we can consider forced migration and becoming a refugee as an extreme condition brought about by an instinctive attempt to avoid danger. For example, the simple act of crossing the street to avoid a potentially threatening incident could constitute the first steps to permanent displacement, resulting in a state ofaffairs whereby ‘You can never go Home Again’: a state of exile that could last for generations. On the other hand, with regard to the production of art, disaster or disruption may engender processes of establishing familiar patterns, whereby assembling and recounting events have a cathartic function. Although the past cannot be altered, the very act of packaging events into stories or images, composing them into recountable or visual forms; may enable victims to feel a sense of control over the tragedy. At the same time it offers a culturally determined coping-strategy that can be resorted to when disaster strikes.The paper offers both a theoretical exploration of the nature of catastrophe response and an examination of examples from visual arts practice that aim for a better understanding and rationalisation of catastrophe and migration.

Item Type:Conference contribution (Lecture)
Faculties and Schools:Faculty of Art, Design and the Built Environment
Faculty of Art, Design and the Built Environment > Belfast School of Art
Research Institutes and Groups:Art and Design Research Institute
Art and Design Research Institute > Art, Conflict and Society
ID Code:16968
Deposited By: Professor Terence Wright
Deposited On:01 Mar 2011 23:30
Last Modified:09 Dec 2015 10:53

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