Art, Memory, and the Absent Ones: What Hannah Arendt, Doris Salcedo, and The OA Tell Us About Homelessness




Publicness, Art, Homelessness


This paper maps Hannah Arendt’s (1958) phenomenological categories of the private, public, and the social onto the experience of homelessness under neoliberalism. Amidst what is better expressed as contemporary practices of “dehousing” (Hulchanski et al., 2009, p. 3), we require contestations of the political malaise that perpetuates this violence; we are in need of new things. I argue that a revitalizing of the political can be found within forms of artistic practice. The work of Doris Salcedo engages the recovery of absent citizens, memory, and publicness, while strategically blurring Arendtian public/private distinctions. Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s (2016) TV show, The OA, offers a way to imagine a world outside the ‘false public’ and its inversion, the ‘false private’ realm of contemporary homelessness. In borrowing from theorists like Wendy Brown (2006, 2011, 2015), Bonnie Honig (1992, 2013, 2017), and others, I argue that Salcedo and The OA illustrate the role of aesthetic practice in restoring the private realm, which in turn can open up venues of encounter. Such a work of recovery is necessary in imagining — and pursuing — an alternative future, one in which citizens have a shelter from which to emerge, be heard and seen in public.