The Art of the Past: Before and after Archaeology

KuvA Research Days 2016

Exhibition Laboratory
University of the Arts, Helsinki, Finland

December 14, 2016

With intellectual and disciplinary roots in art history, early modern science, and antiquarianism, the field of archeology exists within the arts, humanities, and sciences. As with their antiquarian forebears, whose work to compose images of the past slipped easily from art to science and back again, contemporary archeologists compose pasts from traces, residues, absences and presences, appropriating, mixing, and inventing techniques and methods from across the academy. In the first decade of the twenty first century, there has been a resurgence of interest in the composition of the past within contemporary arts practice. With some artists focusing directly on archeology and the act of excavation and processing of finds in particular, some archeologists, such as Colin Renfrew, Ruth Tringham, Michael Shanks, and Doug Bailey, have endeavoured to meet this interest with-in the arts, sustaining critical, interdisciplinary work on the renewal of the past through both archeological as well as artistic practices. In many cases, archeologists themselves have transgressed disciplinary strictures engaging artists directly through residencies and commissions, and in some cases taking to making art themselves. Collectively, there is evidence of a concerted effort within both archeology and art to address the composition of the past – not as an end result of technological analysis but as the beginning of a possibility for renewal through process. Doing away with the rubric of a scientifically managed past, perhaps we may be witnessing a revival of an avantgardist past, akin to the predisciplinary spirit of antiquarianism, that is not constrained by disciplinary strictures or epistemic conventions, where the past is not a destination but a continual process of composition and renewal.

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