GRC Research Seminar: Kisses at the Memorial: Affective Objects, US Militarism and Feminist Resistance at Sites of Wartime Memory

12 December 2018, 1.00 PM - 12 December 2018, 2.00 PM

LG3 10 Priory Rd

Dr Audrey Reeves will be presenting her research on "Kisses at the Memorial: Affective Objects, US Militarism and Feminist Resistance at Sites of Wartime Memory"


In 2005, American artist Seward Johnson exhibited a sculpture modelled after Life Magazine’s iconic photograph of a sailor kissing a white-clad woman on 14 August 1945, day of the Allied victory against Japan. This article interrogates the presence of Johnson’s sculpture, which I suggest has become an iconic object, at prominent sites of tourism and commemoration in the United States and Western Europe, particularly in San Diego, California; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and Caen in Northern France. It asks, how do affective encounters between the sculpture, memorial visitors, and local communities shape understandings of US militarism? I argue that controversies around the sculpture illuminate the importance of affective encounters with iconic objects for sustaining militarism, as well as for contesting it. On the one hand, visitors’ often playful interactions with the sculpture favour accounts of US militarism as benign and innocent, rather than coercive and violent. On the other hand, a French feminist group’s success at adding a plaque reminding visitors of the sexual violence perpetrated by American servicemen exemplifies the importance of objects for highlighting the coercive and violent dimension of any militarism. I suggest that while verbal interventions such as the plaque alter the meaning of the iconic object, the latter’s own aesthetic qualities, and those of its material environment, are determinant in allowing it to ‘speak’ militarism in an affectively potent way. These findings draw on participant observation at the memorial sites and an analysis of statements by the artist, curators, feminist critics, and visitors.

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