Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"its inability to grasp or even look at the present, much less to excavate the future"

"In the present moment...  it appears that a number of artists seek to define art first and foremost in the thickness of its relationship to history. More and more frequently, art finds itself looking back, both at its own past (a very popular approach right now, as well as big business), and at “the” past in general....  The retrospective, historiographic mode—a methodological complex that includes the historical account, the archive, the document, the act of excavating and unearthing, the memorial, the art of reconstruction and reenactment, the testimony—has become both the mandate (“content”) and the tone (“form”) favored by a growing number of artists (as well as critics and curators) of varying ages and backgrounds. They either make artworks that want to remember, or at least to turn back the tide of forgetfulness, or they make art about remembering and forgetting...." 

from "The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art" by Dieter Roelstraete, in E-Flux journal

So retromania really is a culture-wide syndrome. Or rather, a bundle of overlapping and mutually exacerbating syndromes, each with their own discrete trajectory and origin point, but effectively meshing in the early 21st Century to form a sort of panoramic predicament, a cultural landscape.

This sort of thing sound very familiar to those who've followed leading-edge music this past decade or so:

"The pervasive interest of so many younger artists and curators in the very notion of anachronism or obsolescence and related “technologies of time”: think of Super 8 mm and 16 mm film, think of the Kodak slide carousel, think of antiquated, museum-of-natural-history-style vitrines meant to convey a sense of the naturalization of history..."

(An art-world trend also noted in Claire Bishop's much-discussed Artforum essay of last year, "Digital Divide")

Way of the Shovel contains as well a swipe against trend for "micro-historiography":

"Virtually every little “thing” has become the subject of its own (strictly “cultural”) history of late, from the pencil to the zipper, the cod, the porcelain toilet bowl, the stiletto, the potato, or the bowler hat. It does not require too great an imaginative effort to discern the miserable political implications of this obsession with detail, novelty, and the quaint exoticism of the everyday (best summed up by the dubious dictum “small is beautiful”)."

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