Cultural Memory

International Symposium

Fri, Mar 24, 2006
10 am
Free admission

Staged by the House of World Cultures and the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung

International scientists and artists outline Chinese and European perspectives on burning and complex questions related to the thoughts and ideas of cultures, for such notions are of existential importance not only for the politics of memory, but also - and above all else - for artistic practice too.

By looking at one another’s ideas and cultures, we can identify common ground for approaching questions of Cultural Memory without levelling out essential differences. The question of finding strategies to come to terms with collective traumas - the Genocides of the 20th century or the Cultural Revolution in China - leads to the very heart of the debate. Artists thematise the ways in which social experience inscribes itself in the body, and shed light on different modes of behaviour in different cultures: curators speak on the importance of contemporary exhibition practice, and drama experts and theatre-makers discuss the contexts - historical as well as those related to identity politics - within which modern theatre and opera productions arise. Taking the fiercely contested public space in Chinese cities as an example, urbanism experts and activists are broadening these considerations to include the explosive nature of real locations of memory. In Berlin, the explosive nature of these locations continually re-emerges in new forms against the historical background of the city.

10:00 Cultural Memory in China and Europe
Lydia Haustein (Art Historian, House of World Culture / Art Academy Weißensee, Berlin, Germany), Michael Lackner (Sinologist, Universität Erlangen, Germany), Zhu Qingsheng (Art Historian, Academy of fine Arts Beijing, China)

Cultural memory would seem to be an important topos, especially in Europe, for reflecting upon the relationship between identity and culture and embedding it in a historical continuum. Generally, all artistic activity can be said to start with an intense and conscious or unconscious investigation into the paradigms underlying the production of cultural memory. A central question at the conference is whether cultural memory must always be considered in the plural with respect to China and Europe, that is: as a concept referring to disparate constructs, or whether common features exist. For the moment one begins to take this question seriously, one automatically casts of the straitjacket of stereotypical imputations and creates a context – so often lacking – that seems to be so important for understanding art produced in China.

12:00 Collective and Social Memory
Aleida Assmann (Comparative Literature, University Konstanz, Germany), Leng Lin (Art Historian, Beijing), Mod.: Thekla Wiebusch (East Asia Studies, Paris)

Culture, society and the forms in which they are remembered are based as much on the experiences of individual people as they are on general concepts, without which it would be impossible to conceive of memory as something shared. The different political models developed during the 20th century variously define both the concept of history and, of course, the position of the individual in society. For it is not only a question, here, of differentiating between individual memory and that of communities and cultures, but also between different models as they have developed in China and Europe.

14:30 Trauma, Amnesia and Anamnesis
Harald Welzer (Social psychologist, Witten-Herdecke, Germany), Zuo Jing (Curator, Nanjing), Nora Sausmikat (Sinologist, University Duisburg, Germany)

The Cultural Revolution, as an event that set out to destroy cultural artefacts and sites, not only resulted in the loss of very real points of reference, but also traumatised people with its violent excesses. This trauma is still deeply inscribed in the personal histories of people who were involved. At the same time, it appears as if the generations who not directly affected by these events have already overcome this trauma or even find it irrelevant. The loss of cultural memory, whether forced upon people or incurred in the form of an individual reaction, will be discussed here in the light of similar experiences in Europe during the 20th century.

16:30 Body, Identity, Rememberance
Jin Xing (Dancer and Choreographer, Jin Xing Dance Theatre Shanghai, China)
Mod.: Johannes Odenthal (Curator, publicist and Head of Performing Arts, House of World Cultures, Berlin)

Cultural memory ultimately inscribes itself in a society in the way individuals perceive their bodies; the question of the cultural and political implications of identity certainly also includes individuals’ freedom to determine their own aesthetic and sexual development. In the act of performance, contemporary performing art directly opposes the role models that politics and consumer society expect the individual to play; by adopting this critical viewpoint, performing art offers a no-less-critical glance back at the role models presented by traditional forms of performing art.


Lydia Haustein, professor of art history at the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee, Deputy Director and Head of Literature and Humanities at the House of World Cultures.

Michael Lackner, Professor of Sinology at the University of Erlangen. Major areas of research include the past and present relationship between China and the Occident, recent Chinese intellectual history and the history of political thought in China.

Zhu Qingsheng, professor of art theory at Peking University, advisor to the World Art Programme of the Millennium Art Museum and Director of the Han Art Institute. He does research into contemporary aesthetics and art theory.

Aleida Assmann, professor of English language and literature as well as general literature studies at the University of Konstanz. In her recent book Erinnerungsräume (2003), she advanced the theory of ‘cultural memory’.

Leng Lin studied art history at the Central Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing from 1984 to 1993. Leng Ling works as associate professor of art history at Peking University and as a freelance curator and art critic.

Website: Beijing Commune (ch/en)

Harald Welzer, director of the research group Interdisciplinary Memory Research at the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut (Essen). His two main areas of research are memory research and psychological research into the Holocaust and violence. He coined the term ‘social memory’.

Thekla Wiebusch, researcher in the area of East Asian studies at the University of Leipzig and at the Centre des Recherches Linguistiques sur l' Asie Orientale (CRLAO) in Paris.

Zuo Jing is professor at the faculty of journalism and broadcasting at Anhui University. He is also managing director and curator of the RCM Museum of Modern Art, Nanjing.

Nora Sausmikat, lecturer in Sinology at Duisburg University and head of the project „Beijing Case“ , which ran at the Goethe Institute in Beijing in 2005.

Jin Xing, dancer and choreographer, born in 1969. In Shanghai, she runs the Jin Xing Dance Theatre, China’s first private dance company. Jin Xing is a transsexual. She investigates the body images of women and men in dance. Even before she had a sex-change operation and became a woman, Jin Xing was a celebrated dance star. Now she is regarded as a cultural advertisement for Shanghai and considered to be one of the most colourful personalities in Asia.

Johannes Odenthal, curator, journalist and head of the Dance, Music and Theatre department at the House of World Cultures.