Artistic Practices of (Un-)Making Place

University of Innsbruck
23-24 September 2022




“and let thy feet, millenniums hence, be set in midst of knowledge”

(Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Two Voices”)


When it comes to the intersections which form between art, literature and place, one encounters endless instances where the real and the imagined form a symbiosis: Hardy’s Wessex, Gauguin’s Southsea, Roth’s borderlands of the Austrian Empire, Hopkins’ Binsey poplars, Lawrence’s Italy, Blake’s dark Satanic Mills, Emily Carr’s Canadian landscapes, Walcott’s Caribbean seascapes or Rilke’s Worpswede, to name just a few examples. In Shakespeare’s words, they become ‘a local habitation and a name’.

Yet artistic imaginations of space are not merely self-contained attempts at documenting landscapes but affect the landscapes themselves. Art and Literature can make and unmake place(s). Where Wordsworth’s writing on the Lake District helped to inspire the preservation of its landscapes, Alex Garland’s novel The Beach led to the destruction of the very paradisiacal shore it describes.

This conference aims at investigating such literary and artistic practices of place-making. As we follow this well-trodden path, we would like to shift the angle of the discussion slightly, sidestepping perhaps into a wider conversation which binds together the question of literary and artistic strategies of place-making with the question of the consequences of such efforts of representation for what Habermas calls the Lebenswelt. Put more simply, how space becomes place.

Seen from this angle, we want to prompt a new discussion about the reciprocal relationship between our notions of place and expressions of it in art and literature. Artists and writers take inspiration from particular locales. They idiosyncratically represent, mirror and manipulate the spatial imagination of these places and create their version of the “spirit of the place”. As we pay attention to the way artistic and literary discourses create and shape one’s spatial imaginations, we must also begin to take into account the ways in which these are discursively integrated into the environments of human interaction.

The connections between the spatial capital of art and literature also expose conflictive readings of the spatial markers of collective memory and identity. In Derek Walcott’s words, “The sea is history” – but actually it is artists and writers who read this history and formulate spatial identities which infuse sea- and land-scapes with memories. It follows that the relationships between artists and place also affect their functioning as commemorative practices.



– The reciprocal relationship of artistic practices and places.

– Art and place in the Anthropocene and the fictions of an unspoiled world (e.g. the Pastoral Ideal and recent trends in nature writing, cf. Robert Macfarlane, and their effect on landscapes).

– Social media, modern portable memorials (travelogues, passports, diaries, journals, mobile phones) and the making of space.

­– The intersections of artistic representations, place and nostalgia.

– memory culture(s) and mnemotechnic procedures; transposition of spatial identities, e.g. ‘the Venice of the North’ for Saint Petersburg / Leningrad, ‘the little Paris of the Balkans’ for Bucharest, ‘the golden city’ for Prague, ‘the city of Ulysses’ for Lisbon, etc.

– space and the reference memory or ‘archive’ (Grabes) of art and literature, imaginary outlines of these places, as well as their perceived topographies.

– the re-making/rewriting of place, e.g. as in the case of Constantinople as Istanbul, New Amsterdam as New York, Bombay as Mumbai etc.

– the art of (in)scribing, describing, rescribing memory as ‘methods of interpretation’ (Hutton).

– ‘writing history’ in the Book of God, the Book of Nature, the Book of Man, or onto the memorial text of the city (de Certeau).

– spatial imagination as communication with the dead: waging a battle against oblivion through artistic customs and rituals of remembrance, retribution or cure, e.g. Dante’s ultramundane excursus, Mann’s magic mountain, Buzzati’s Tartar steppe etc.

– space and amnesia; space and the erasure of memories and their effect on the polity (A. Assmann, Docherty).

– unforgetting as truth-finding (αλήθεια), remembering (or unforgetting) as therapy.

– the canon of architectural history as spatial memory.

– space in art and literature as palimpsest or boustrophedon: figures disguised in intricate forms by way of protecting identity (Freud’s Roman allegory, Sebald’s Liverpool Station), and other figures of transport: metaphor, metonymy, e.g. the City of God, the Satanic Mills, etc.


Conference Programme

You can download the preliminary conference programme as a PDF here



Hörsaal 4 & Hörsaal 5

Innrain 52, 6020 Innsbruck



The following hotels have a contingent of rooms available for conference participants:

  • Basic Hotel Innsbruck
  • Hotel Engl
  • Gartenhotel Garni
  • Hotel Goldene Krone


More information here

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