‘The Palimpsest’ Symposium

This unique symposium brings together artists, scholars and critics to look at some of the ideas which surround the palimpsest, ‘a membrane or roll cleansed of its manuscript by reiterated successions,’ (Thomas de Quincey) suggests—in particular, themes of recurrence and the layering of space and time, and the relationship of text to memory and history.

‘The Palimpsest’ is not an academic conference and is suitable for anyone with an interest in finding out more about the themes raised by ‘Invisible Fabrick’.

Buy tickets below


Artist Adam Chodzko will reflect on his practice to consider instability in the porous boundary between fact and fiction, and the relationship between myths, missing objects, ruins, loops in time and the end of art.

Dr Sarah Dillon (University of Cambridge), author of the book ‘The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory’ will provide a brief guided history of palimpsests from their creation in the Middle Ages to their discovery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; from old chemical formulae for erasing ink to the ghostly reemergence of long lost texts. She’ll use this historic substrate to ground a taste of the way in which the metaphor of the palimpsest has engaged and enthused writers from Thomas de Quincey to D. H. Lawrence, as a metaphor for the mind, for history, for memory and much more.

Looking likewise at the text and textual, Patrick Coyle, an artist whose work centres on the written and spoken word and the modulations of speech and text, will present a performance focusing on how stories are passed down through history, condensing multiple voices into a single text.

Currently editing the complete works of Sir Thomas Browne, Dr Claire Preston (Queen Mary University of London) will discuss erasure, failure of memory, and material and intellectual loss in the works of Browne (especially in ‘Urne-Buriall’ and ‘Musaeum Clausum’) in relation to the Baconian programme of the advancement of learning that (broadly) guided early-modern natural-philosophical savants.

Architecture critic and writer Owen Hatherley will talk about the ambiguous role of modernism as heritage, and whether it is possible to resolve the contradiction that a movement that aimed to create the world anew is now increasingly treated as just another historic style, fit to be preserved and sold like any other.


About the speakers

Adam Chodzko‘s (b. London, 1965) work weaves new relationships between our value and belief systems, exploring their effect on our communal and private spaces through the documents and fictions that control, describe and guide them. Working directly with the networks of people and places that surround him, often using forms of anthropology, Chodzko focuses on the relational politics of culture’s edges, endings, displacements, transitions and disappearances through a provocative looking in the ‘wrong’ places” – a search for knowledge through instability. Chodzko operates in the tight, poetic spaces between documentary and fantasy, conceptualism and surrealism, public and private space, often engaging reflexively and directly with the role of the viewer. He has exhibited extensively in international solo and group exhibitions including Tate St Ives; Museo d’Arte Moderna, Bologna (MAMBo); Istanbul Biennale, Venice Biennale; Deste Foundation, Athens; PS1, New York; and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

Patrick Coyle (b. Hull, 1983) is an artist who uses performance, writing and sculpture to examine personal and hidden narratives, placing strategic constraints on his own methods of presentation. He completed MFA Art Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2010 and BA Fine Art at Byam Shaw, University of the Arts London in 2005. He recently delivered performances at Spike Island, Bristol; Modern Art Oxford; Zabludowicz Collection, London; Alma Enterprises, London; Chisenhale Gallery, London; BALTIC 39, Newcastle. Coyle has exhibited widely, including at the Royal College of Art, London; Saison Poetry Library, London; X Marks the Bökship, London; Art Exchange, Colchester;  Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge; ICA, London and Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2010, A Foundation, Liverpool & ICA, London. Coyle was included in the poetry anthology Dear World & Everyone In It (Bloodaxe Books, 2013), and his book /pe(?)r/ was published by Wysing Arts Centre (2013).

Dr Sarah Dillon  is University Lecturer in Literature and Film in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. She is author of ‘The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory’ (2007), editor of ‘David Mitchell: Critical Essays’ (2011), and co-editor of ‘Maggie Gee: Critical Essays’ (forthcoming 2014). She is General Editor of the book series Gylphi Contemporary Writers: Critical Essays, and serves on the editorial board of ‘C21: Journal of Twenty-First Century Writing‘. She has published widely on twentieth and twenty-first century literature, film and philosophy. She is currently completing an academic monograph on poststructuralist philosophy and film entitled ‘Queer Intimacies: Deconstructing Film’, and a popular book, ‘Why Scientists Should Read’, drawn from her work on the Royal Society of Edinburgh funded ‘What Scientists Read’ collaborative project. Sarah was a 2013 BBC New Generation Thinker, blogs for Sci-Fi-London, and is actively involved in radio broadcasting and public engagement.

Owen Hatherley (b. Southampton, 1981) is a freelance writer on architecture and cultural politics. He writes regularly for Architectural Review, Building Design, Icon, The Guardian and New Humanist. He is the author of ‘Militant Modernism’ (Zero Books, 2009), ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’ (Verso, 2010); Uncommon – An Essay on Pulp (Zero, 2011); ‘A New Kind of Bleak – Journeys Through Urban Britain’ (Verso, 2012); and an e-book on squares in Eastern Europe, Across the Plaza (Strelka, 2012). He edited, updated and introduced Ian Nairn’s ‘Nairn’s Towns‘ (Notting Hill Editions, 2013). Hatherley received a PhD in 2011 from Birkbeck College, London for a thesis on ‘The Political Aesthetics of Americanism in Weimar Germany and the Soviet Union, 1919-34’, and is currently working on a book about architecture and communism. He lives in south-east London.

Dr Claire Preston is Reader in Renaissance Literature at Queen Mary University of London. She has held posts at Oxford, Cambridge, and most recently, the University of Birmingham, where she was Professor of Early-Modern Literature. She has recently held research awards from the British Academy and the Guggenheim Foundation, and currently holds a major AHRC grant supporting the OUP’s Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne (forthcoming 2015-2019), of which she is the general editor. Preston was awarded the British Academy’s Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2005. She is completing a book on the poetics of early-modern scientific investigation (forthcoming, OUP 2014); articles on soils, earths, and the geological writing of the seventeenth century; and on the poetics of early-modern orchards and apples. She has written and appeared widely on the subject of the cultural history of bees. Her recent television and radio work includes The Century that Wrote Itself (with Adam Nicolson); For the Love of Honey (with Martha Kearney); and radio interviews on National Public Radio (USA) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the human brain? Such a palimpsest is my brain; such a palimpsest, oh reader! is yours. Everlasting layers of ideas, images, feelings, have fallen upon your brain softly as light. Each succession has seemed to bury all that went before. And yet, in reality, not one has been extinguished.”

– Thomas de Quincey, ‘Suspiria de Profundis’