Recent work on matter, materiality, and materialisms has enriched the study of objects in the aesthetic, and more broadly, cultural spheres. Beyond formal considerations, artists have mined materials as complex, affective carriers of communication (as recent exhibitions of Bruegel, Hilma af Klint, Henry Moore, Ruth Asawa, and Doris Salcedo suggest). But what precisely is the relationship between medium and materiality, the latter of which Michael Ann Holly has called ‘the meeting of matter and imagination’? Panofsky wrote that the melancholy task of humanists ‘isn’t to arrest what would otherwise slip away but enliven what would otherwise remain dead’. How might we understand the powerful tug-of-war between tangible surface and the immaterial – psychological, emotional, and spiritual – that the ‘stuff’ of objects transmits?
The obdurate materiality of the works we study are both lost and found, past and present. Equally important, they are embedded to varying degrees with the lives of their makers, carrying their own narratives across time and space in ways that are often difficult to untangle from the stories of people who produced them. Perhaps scholars needn’t shy away from their desires to recapture the ineffable that imaginative endeavours offer. What, for instance, makes one object forgettable and another arresting? There’s a difference, both psychoanalysts and connoisseurs say, between an ordinary object and an evocative one, but the aforementioned questions are open to other sociocultural, anthropological, and theoretical inquiries. This panel explores dialogues between material and materiality while engaging with issues of making viewed through the lenses of history, theory, and practice.