Materiality
in Art + Archive
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Chapter 4 reads the interest in the archive among artists and art writers in light of the persistent tension between the materiality and immateriality of the archive. Much artistic practice at the turn of the twenty-first century engages with the specifically material connotations of the archive, in ways that mobilise nineteenth-century Romantic views of the archival document as containing traces of the past. This chapter argues that it is no coincidence that the timing of the archival turn in art coincided with the shift from analogue to digital media. The interest in archives is related to the sense that the indexicality – material trace – of analogue photography, established in theories of photography (Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes), was perceived to be under threat from the advent of digital media. The phenomenon of archive art is thus shown to be tied to another pervasive trend among artists in the same time period: artistic engagement with obsolete or soon-to-be obsolete technology. Artworks such as Zoe Leonard’s Analogue (1998–2007) and Joachim Koester’s Message from Andrée (2005) anchor the discussion in specific artistic practices, where these material associations between archive and analogue media are processed.

Art + Archive

Understanding the archival turn in contemporary art

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