Crime Scenes and Sites of Memory: Second International Conference on Perpetrators of Mass Violence
Conference coordinated by Anacleto Ferrer,
Brigitte Jirku and Vicente Sánchez-Biosca (UV)
November 12-15, 2019
“Where there is sorrow
there is holy ground”
(Oscar Wilde, De Profundis)
the crime scene “is… a product of the emergence in the nineteenth century of forensic science… established (and continually reestablished) through complex practices of marking, looking, calculating, interpreting, and rendering. It is actively made, not immediately given, a formation simultaneously material and symbolic” (Greg Siegel)
Mass crimes, acts of genocide and political violence possess a certain “metaphysical” dimension against the humane, as stressed by authors as diverse as Elie Wiesel and Vladimir Jankélévitch. Nevertheless, whatever their conceptual reach may be, they constitute concrete acts which occur in precise locations, happen within a unique time period and whose material actors are, ultimately, ordinary people. Reconstructing the scenes resulting from said acts means returning to them the immediacy and the very banality that characterised them at the moment of their execution. However, once the events are reconstructed, those same stages take on new symbolic and cultural conditions and are resemanticised in diverse social areas: in the criminal trials that reconstruct the events, in the victims, persecutors and witnesses’ memory, in the visual and written archives that describe the events and, last but not least, in artistic, literary and cinematographic recreations.
Furthermore, these scenes are often transformed through interventions by society itself (the State, the nation, groups involved, exiles) in very different ways: through an official sanctioning or by virtue of an almost clandestine act by those directly affected; through spontaneous acts of commemoration or fleeting gestures intended as a way for the collective to pay tribute to the victims. The sacralisation of memory sites is none other than a gesture made possible in a globalised world in which violence is made more visible than ever and the appeal for reparation (at least memorial reparation) is more pronounced than at any other moment in history. Under the twentieth and twenty-first century societies’ drive for commemoration, the sites where mass violence has been executed have multiplied to unexpected levels and, on occasions, have entered into competition with each other, ranging from the planned sophistication (be it intentionally convoluted or minimalist) of certain urban scenes to the brand of the “spontaneous commemoration” of the immediate mourning period in the aftermath of an attack.
This conference seeks to examine the tension produced by this double dimension (present act, commemorative future) in this era of the crime scene. Additionally, we suggest a comparative case analysis, with the objective of reaching a more thorough understanding of the “styles” of each time period, as well as the exemplifying power of the most recognised and earliest examples (in particular, the Holocaust). Following the line of research initiated in the conference Perpetrators’ Hell: Images, Narrative and Concepts (November 2017) as part of the research group «Contemporary Representations of Perpetrators of Mass Violence: Concepts, Narrative and Images» (HAR2017-83519-P), the approach to these questions has as its perspective the study of those who committee criminal acts, taking into consideration, of course, all actors involved in the scene.
We suggest the following aspects, which are not intended to be mutually exclusive, keeping in mind the perspective should be the committing of crimes: that is, their perpetration:
Spontaneous commemorations and terrorism: a 21st century wave (since 9/11).
Prisons: official and clandestine. The transformation of spaces of pain into spaces of commemoration.
Cemeteries as places of violence (firing squads) and places of peace and rest.
Open-air violence: The non-site and its mnemonic demarcation.
Mental sites reconstructed by memory, fictional or literary discourses.
Architectural models and minimalism: conceptualism of new monuments.
Material objects as present footprints: physical culture, fetishism and the fusion of time.
Memory tourism. Audio guides, catalogues and guided visits. The picture of a crime.
Photographing, filming, mapping sites.