The art of memory and forgetting: fine art and the resurrection of class memory in one London Borough

  • Loraine Monk

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The intention of this part practice/part theoretical research is to examine if it is possible to make visible a hidden history of workers’ lives in Kingston using a fine art strategy. The investigation examines the occlusion of working-class experience and the writing out of working-class histories, and considers the capacity of fine art imagery to intervene in a process of the recovery of those histories. It considers the way in which found photographs leave some trace of those hidden or unwritten histories, and how their manipulation and alternative rendering using traditional painting methods and performance can create elements of those histories, and recoup lost experiences. It does this through a study of the official self-representation of the historical roots and development of one London Borough, Kingston-upon- Thames, through a consideration of what lies behind the collection and display policy of its Museum and municipal archives, and its Heritage Centre. In the first chapter the concept of hidden histories is investigated with an overview of the theoretical material. The investigation uses Marxist critics who suggest, as does Hobsbawm, that history is formed by the construction of different narratives. Using The Arcades Project and Illuminations,, Walter Benjamin’s ideas on history and art are used to reflect on the philosophical problem of representing the past. Foucault's work is mobilised because of his identification of the way that social institutions produce dominant paradigms of knowledge, and the ways in which these paradigms establish hierarchical power relations. In the second chapter, the ideas and works of some current artists who use strategies of recuperation within their practice, are presented and located. Since the end of the twentieth century, the investigation and depiction of memory, hidden history and invisibility have become major sites of interrogation for artists no less than for theorists and historiographers. The third chapter explores how the process of working class occlusion occurs through an examination of the recording, exhibiting and depiction of the official history of one Borough in London, Kingston upon Thames. The final chapter questions how visual art practice might contribute to the process of revealing hidden history. The chapter records the practical research process. The mediums used included photography, painting, digital drawing and re-enactment to retrace the excluded lives of the working class. The theoretical inspirations that sustain the construction and exhibition of the art practice are examined, and the success or failure of that investigation is evaluated.
Date of AwardAug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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