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Reclaiming the Past: Historical Representation in Contemporary Photography and Video art

Magagnoli, P; (2012) Reclaiming the Past: Historical Representation in Contemporary Photography and Video art. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

Since the late 1990s a new tendency has emerged in contemporary art whereby artists deploy archival research to explore the mechanics of historical representation and evoke the past. This thesis examines the works of some of the most relevant practitioners of the new tendency who are working with video, photography and film and explores the reasons for the return of historical representation in art. In the introduction the study sets the tendency against the background of modernist, postmodernist theories and the historiographic debates of the last thirty years. The first chapter attempts a critical re-evaluation of the concept of nostalgia; by examining the works of Tacita Dean, Joachim Koester, and Matthew Buckingham, a more nuanced concept of nostalgia emerges, for which this approach to the past does not appear as a sentimental and escapist fantasy but, on the contrary, as a strategy to reflect critically on the present and re-imagine the future. In my second chapter I focus on the experimental documentaries of Anri Sala, Walid Raad and Hito Steyerl. These works are based on a sophisticated notion of truth that overcomes the Platonic dualism between truth and appearance. The third chapter considers the photographic archives of Zoe Leonard, Rachel Harrison, and Jean-Luc Moulène. These archives represent recent historical events through the figure of the commodity. I ask whether these works should be considered as amnesiac archives and whether they confirm the Marxist notion of the commodity as memory disturbance. The fourth chapter examines the use of digital images and technologies by Sean Snyder, Hito Steyerl and Paul Chan. These artists challenge the narrative of crisis and catastrophe predominant in 1990s theories of new media, which considered the digital image in term of a profound loss of memory and historicity. The dissertation concludes with a critical assessment of the political importance of the artistic tendency.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Reclaiming the Past: Historical Representation in Contemporary Photography and Video art
Language:English
Additional information:Authorisation of digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > History of Art

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