Attending to Absence

Sarah Bell (US)

To dwell in the world during the Coronavirus pandemic is to witness the collision of theory with experience.  As we live through this unique historical moment, experiencing isolation, emptiness and absence in almost unprecedented ways, it is worth reflecting on the manner in which our bodies respond to a world drained of physical presence.  I argue that an awareness of absence—and thus, conversely, of presence—should be considered as one amongst the almost infinite number of senses with which we are endowed. This sense should be understood as a physical and an emotional sensitivity not only to the absence of human presence, but also to the absence of things—a condition that is made appreciable through the complex relationship that exists between part and whole, non-place and place, here and gone.  As is evident in so many instances, it is in the interstitial “spaces between” these categories that both meaning and material accumulate.   Taking the remains of the abandoned Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick, Rhode Island as a case study, this presentation explores the ways in which the material environment at the park has been altered by visitors to reflect an awareness of absence through mark-making and graffiti.