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The City as Memory Machine

August 29, 2015, through December 06, 2015

Life in the city is lived in daily patterns of mobility. Each day, most of us stroll past the same shops and cafés, or distractedly gaze across receding rooftops from the vantage of an elevated train. We often think of time spent in transit as lost time, life on the periphery of real living. But as the French anthropologist Marc Augé has shown us, traveling through the city is a practice of history and memory. Instead of life lost, cities unfold at the stop-and-go pace of a crowded bus line. Along the way, monuments to the city’s collective history spark personal, individualized memories. In those fleeting moments, as the bus rolls along, we may be struck by the memory of a childhood trip to Central Park or suddenly recall a moment of heartbreaking loss. On the commute, the past and the present intermingle in barely recognized flashes of illumination, all in the time it takes to glance up from the morning newspaper. 

In his ethnography of the Paris Metro, Marc Augé refers to the Metro map as a “memory machine,” arguing that each stop highlighted on the map indexes and generates individual and shared experiences of place. The works of art in this exhibition offer snapshots of city life, with artists representing a continuum of urban–rural experience. Dong Kingman shows a colorful street-level view of Mott Street in New York’s Chinatown, while Alex MacLean explores the suburban regularity of a Vermont subdivision. Students in Professor Laura Ogden’s anthropology course will use the artwork from this exhibit to write essays inspired by Augé’s theory of place. Each essay will explore the ways places are produced at the intersection of shared history and individual memory.

Laura Ogden, Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Amelia Kahl, Hood Museum of Art Associate Curator of Academic Programming, selected these works for Professor Ogden’s Main Currents in Anthropology class. Students in the class will write descriptive labels for these works and use them for an assignment on ethnographic writing and theory. As a teaching museum, the Hood Museum of Art is committed to using its collection to support Dartmouth College students and faculty. This exhibition was organized by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, and generously supported by the Harrington Gallery Fund.
Curated by Laura Ogden, Associate Professor of Anthropology / Amelia Kahl, Associate Curator of Academic Programming
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