Injured Cities, Urban Afterlives

When 14 Oct 2011 - 15 Oct 2011
Where Columbia University, Miller Theatre and Wood Auditorium
2960 Broadway
New York, NY
United States

October 14-15 2011

Press Release:

What enduring wounds does catastrophe leave on urban life, and how can they be mobilized and transformed in the aftermath of injury to enable the imagination of new modes of social life and to thwart impending forms of social death?

This conference, convened on the tenth anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001, aims to explore the effects of catastrophe on cities and their inhabitants, to analyze the politics of shock and terror states use in response to their vulnerability, and to imagine more life-affirming modes of redress and re-invention.

New York City provides a significant and indeed singularly relevant locus for this event. A city of immigrants, many of whom have ties to other cities that have suffered catastrophe, New York’s intellectuals and cultural producers, as well as its ordinary citizens, have a unique contribution to offer to the many urgent projects of reimagining cities around the world today.

The focal point of the conference will be the September 11, 2001 Oral History Narrative and Memory Project of Columbia’s Oral History Research Office, an oral history archive of 600 life stories of diverse New York City communities. The collection documents the multiple ways that “difference” – in the form of geography, cultural memory, ethnic identity, class, gender, generation, religious and political affiliation – affects how individuals are subject to and assign meaning to historical catastrophe, both immediately after the event and in the months and years following.

The conference will begin with a morning panel that lays the groundwork for the discussions we hope to stimulate throughout the two days. Panel One, “Injured Cities/ Threshold Catastrophes” will address the temporality of urban catastrophe, looking both at the populations that are most vulnerable and most deeply affected by injury — those on the threshold of catastrophe, to borrow a term from Israeli theorist Ariella Azoulay — and at ‘wounded cities’ in the aftermath.  Panelists are urban sociologist Saskia Sassen, cultural theorist Azoulay and cultural geographer Karen Till.

Injured Cities: Urban Afterlives seeks to initiate a new collective memory of the events of 9/11, 2001, that arises from the local and urban, but also the global experiences of those most directly – and differently – affected. The first afternoon will focus on a series of dialogues organized by Mary Marshall Clark (Director of the Columbia University Oral History Research Office) that stage an encounter between oral history narrators who will testify to the crucial ways in which “difference” became a threat to the construction of a national collective memory of 9/11—a threat that endangered the national consensus that quickly formed for global retaliation. As a creative extension of the discussions of the opening day, the conference organizer are planning to host an evening performance of Testimony to the Ruins by the acclaimed Colombian theater group Mapa Teatro at Miller Theater.

Day Two of the conference will be organized around three interdisciplinary and international panels of noted artists, architects, scholars, journalists, and practitioners. Panel Four, “Citizens, Immigrants, Aliens in the Aftermath,” will think through the politics of belonging and unbelonging that result in the wake of catastrophic events, as well as the demographic injuries that fracture cities with potentially catastrophic effects. Panel Five, “Spatializing Afterlife” will engage the expressive cultural forms through which urban artists, planners, activists and policy-makers have engaged catastrophe, and how they have responded to their enduring wounds through the spatio-physical re-visioning of injured cities. The final panel “Art and Archive After Catastrophe” will focus on artistic responses to urban catastrophe, and the creative modalities that transform them into acts of redress and renewal.

Participants include Ariella Azoulay, Nina Bernstein, Teddy Cruz, Ann Jones, Dinh Q. Lê, Anne McClintock, Shirin Neshat, Walid Raad, Saskia Sassen, Karen Till, Clive van den Berg, Eyal Weizman and several narrators from the 9/11 Oral History Project; moderators Gerry Albarelli, Carol Becker, Hazel V. Carby, Tina Campt, Andreas Huyssen, Mary Marshall Clark, Saidiya Hartman, Rosalind Morris, Diana Taylor, and Mabel Wilson; and conference co-organizers Tina Campt, Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, Lorie Novak, and Laura Wexler.

For more information please click here.