A deeper dive into archival practice and art

In some ways one could argue that every artwork is an archive in the sense that the accumulated knowledge of the artist is inherently embedded within the material of the work itself, both tangible or intangible. Another way to think about it might be in terms of the idea of a trace: some artists prefer to lay bare the evidence of their process–examples include visible erasures or corrections–such that the work itself becomes an archive of its own making. However, these two examples of process are largely self-contained and self-reflective; the archival qualities of the artwork are incidental or implied, but not the primary source material for the work, nor the primary content.

Elizabeth Moran, whose current exhibition at the Hawn Gallery, “Against the Best Possible Sources,” derives directly from the artist’s research at the TIME, Inc. corporate archives, is one of many artists whose practice reflects what the art historian, Hal Foster, broadly defined as an archival impulse. Artists working in this archival manner, according to Foster, “seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present.” He adds that they, “elaborate on the found image, object, and text, and favor the installation format as they do so.”1

To accompany Elizabeth Moran’s exhibition, I assembled a small selection of books from the Hamon Arts Library’s collection that offer further context on the installation. The selection offers a starting point for deeper research into archival practice–presenting canonical, theoretical texts and short essays on the archival practices of a variety of artists. Two significant exhibition catalogues, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, and Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art, seek to document the importance of collecting, archiving and storing in artistic practice. As such, they offer useful introductions in the elusive effort to define archival and research-based practices in contemporary art. These two exhibitions feature work by many artists using archival materials or structures in their practice. I’ve included an additional text, The Archive, which highlights a few of these artists as well. They will be the focus of an upcoming blog post.

The Archive. Edited by Charles Merewether. London: Whitechapel; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

This text is particularly useful as an overview of how critical and theoretical notions of the archive have changed over time. It also offers brief introductions to several different strategies that artists have used as engagement with archival material. Essays included examine how the archive operates in various academic disciplines, including anthropology, critical theory, and history, and how these disciplines inform contemporary artistic practice. Artists highlighted are Christian Boltanski, Susan Hiller, Ilya Kabakov, Renée Green, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Walid Raad’s Atlas Group, both of whom will be discussed further in the next blog post.

Enwezor, Okwui. Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary ArtNew York, N.Y.: International Center of Photography. Göttingen: Steidl Publishers, 2008.

Organized by the late, renowned Nigerian scholar and curator, Okwui Enwezor, in 2008 at the International Center for Photography in New York, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, is not only one of the most significant exhibitions on the ways contemporary artists have engaged with archival structures and archival materials,  but also serves as an exemplary model for the curator’s ideas about how exhibitions themselves are opportunities for interrogation and research. The exhibition, in other words, functioned as an extension of the archive itself. Because it was held at the ICP, Enwezor’s exhibition focuses on artists who use archival documents–specifically photographic archives–in their investigations of history, memory, identity, and loss, which is a marked contrast from the more expansive approach used by the curators in Deep Storage.

The exhibition included work by a geographically diverse group of artists, some of whom were not well known in the United States. While the artists in the exhibition use a broad range of strategies to investigate their particular areas of interest, Enwezor unites them through their shared focus on the role of photography and film as a documentary practice. Artists include Christian Boltanski, Tacita Dean, Stan Douglas, Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Jef Geys, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Craigie Horsfield, Lamia Joreige, Zoe Leonard, Sherrie Levine, Ilán Lieberman, Glenn Ligon, Robert Morris, Walid Raad, Thomas Ruff, Anri Sala, Fazal Sheikh, Lorna Simpson, Eyal Sivan, Vivan Sundaram, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbona, and Andy Warhol.

Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art. Edited by Ingrid Schaffner and Matthias Winzen. Munich; New York: Prestel, 1998.

Like Archive Fever, Deep Storage is a massive exhibition catalogue that provides a highly useful overview of contemporary archival practice, yet its focus is quite different. Deep Storage attempts to investigate artists’ use of not only archival structures and materials, but also the process of collecting and storage as related to museum practice. However, it shies away from arguing for a comprehensive definition. The curators divide their strategy into four distinct sites of investigation into storage: the storeroom/museum, the archive/library, the artist’s studio, and the data-space.  As a result, the exhibition covers a broad range of mediums and modes of working from over forty different artists.

For this exhibition the concept of storing information and material is the central point that unites the diverse group of artists. Organized alphabetically like an encyclopedia, it features brief essays on all participating artists, which serves as a solid starting point for deeper research.


  1. Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse,” October 110 (Autumn, 2004): 4 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3397555.

Book title selection and blog post by Allison Klion, Hawn Gallery Project Manager.

Dan Wingren: The Wizard

Mary Vernon, professor emerita of art, SMU, was a colleague of Dan Wingren. As such, she contributes this blog piece on the artist and further commentary in the exhibition, Dan Wingren: The Image and Magic, on view at the Hamon Arts Library, 2nd floor, until May 31, 2021. 

 

“My head is somewhere near the intersection of the fields of art, history, psychology, engineering, and religion.”
Dan Wingren, (Daily Campus, Southern Methodist University, June 21, 1988). 

One of our names for Dan was The Wizard. Dan Wingren – the experimenter, the rationalist, and the reserved man of wisdom, seemed to stay ahead of us, his colleagues. His self-assurance seemed mixed with introversion. In his handsome loft on lower Greenville Avenue (the whole top floor of a commercial building), he painted and developed photographs, listened to music on the finest audio system, and built his own computer as soon as the components were available. Dan wanted to know things, and the reasons behind the things, all the way down to first causes. 

He was particularly kind to me, a true gift, since he suffered no fools lightly. He grasped that my cluelessness was well-intentioned, and he saw over my head to the work I could do as a colleague. His fierce protection of his privacy was not simply a foible of character, but rather the survival strategy of a gay man in the mid-20th Century. He loved his partner Hal, but they lived, apparently, in separate houses. They traveled, and talked and dined together, watched the stars through a telescope in Hal’s backyard, and never spoke of their lives to the ordinary world. 

Dan Wingren’s devoted students, hundreds of them, could speak of his insightful lectures and critiques, his remarkable knowledge and his advice. He valued honesty more than empathy, and, in that way, clung to an old model of the university teacher. In many of the artists he taught, one can see the influence of Dan’s way of thinking and of painting. He could be kind, as he was to me, or he could show a haughty impulsivity, a state in which concepts ruled and people suffered.

How he saw himself I will never know. He knew he was a gifted researcher in the history and workings of design. He held to a rationalist and scientific understanding of ideas, and eschewed mysticism. He loved to explore the oddities of Manly Palmer Hall or Madame Blavatsky, more because they shed light on our taste for murky quackery than because he might agree with them. Yet he respected shamans, declaring them to be the real thing. It is in his painting that I understand him rather than in his other scholarship. Wingren’s compositions draw from the models of the 1930s – the salient form is a near-central block that sails or floats among a rectangular set of proposals. The lovely news in a Wingren painting is connected to the salient block – to its being more saturated in color than other forms or distinguished by strong contrast of light against dark. Even when Dan Wingren employed photographs as prompts for his paintings, his compositional choices remained. His photo-based paintings were demonstrations of what paint could do even more than they were comments upon a modern way of seeing. Each painting grew as an adjustment of geometric plot, practiced tricks of illusion, and exact observation of color. Dan Wingren had mastered, as well, the taut but flexible surface of properly prepared canvas, its leanings toward opaque paint and a texture of right angles.  

Dan Wingren’s instinct was to turn to general or popular culture, fleeing elitism. He found the latter, by way of contradiction, both silly and weak, and way too powerful. Where could we find the vital and new ideas? In the vernacular and in science. In his last days, while he made studies of fractal geometry and continued to do very fine drawings.


Blog post: Mary Vernon, professor emerita of art, Southern Methodist University
Image: Photograph, Dan Wingren in his studio on lower Greenville Avenue, c. 1970s, Gift, Mary Vernon
 

Courtesy of the Dan Wingren Collection, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University. 

The Illusion of Being: the artists’ interview with Cravens, Faircloth, and Whitt

Thank you to each of you for your willingness to participate in this interview. This exhibition, The Illusion of Being, is a captivating exhibition in the Hawn Gallery and I hope that many more visitors at the university and in the arts community take advantage of seeing it before it closes on May 17th. It has been phenomenal to have this installation in the Hawn Gallery at Hamon.

To begin, each body of work by the three of you has a very strong affiliation with the concept of illusion. Could you discuss how this concept, whether through its creation in photography or other design, served as a lodestar in the development of your work?

Lynné: My work in The Illusion of Being is a culmination of 10 years of research and exploration.  It is hard to say how this work will influence the art I make next, but I can definitely see how I got to this point.  I have been working with origami and photography for quite some time now.  I am interested in how the combination of the two mediums transforms both the image and the form into something new.  With the work in The Illusion of Being, I added another layer with the introduction of the mirror.  I like how the mirror creates a horizon into another dimension, showing a different side and perspective to the objects.  I was also interested in the fact that the viewer could see themselves in the mirror, essentially becoming part of the piece.  This work not only morphs, distorts, and changes my body; but it also incorporates the body of the viewer. 

When creating artworks, I am always translating my emotions and personal experiences into a physical object.  What I am essentially doing is translating what it means to be human into an object.  When Ross suggested the title for the show as The Illusion of Being, I thought it fit perfectly with the concepts all three of us continually make work about.  It really sums up what we do.  These objects are only simulations, they are not the actual experiences.  However, through these objects we can approach these emotions and experiences from a different vantage point.

Continue reading “The Illusion of Being: the artists’ interview with Cravens, Faircloth, and Whitt”

ARK: Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Morris

 

This week’s blog post features an interview between curator, Emily Rueggeberg, and filmmaker, Mike Morris, the creator of ARK. ARK is on view in the Hawn Gallery now through November 4, 2018.

 

210ZS7EJ2V

Emily Rueggeberg: What draws you to the experimental film format as opposed to traditional films?

Mike Morris: Moving images are an amazingly open group of technologies that have been interpreted pretty narrowly if you think about the formal approach of the film industry. Experimental film is a tradition that opens cinema to these expanded possibilities. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of meaningful work to be done within more traditional forms, but cinema doesn’t necessarily need to be a strictly illusionistic storytelling medium. When you’re working with film, you’re working with a physical, photo-chemical, and mechanical medium that can be manipulated to create many kinds of images in a highly formalized or improvisational manner.

Continue reading “ARK: Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Morris”

Curatorial discussion #1: Clear, Deep, Dark

This curatorial discussion on the Hawn Gallery exhibition, Clear, Deep, Dark, focuses on its artist, Julie Morel. Every two weeks during the exhibition’s run, Curatorial Fellow, Emily Rueggeberg, will post a new article highlighting one or more of Morel’s pieces from the exhibition to provide insight into the artist’s creative and theoretical processes.

Continue reading “Curatorial discussion #1: Clear, Deep, Dark”