Sara Callahan
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Chapter 6 argues that the concept of the archive lines up with what before the archival turn in art had been known as institutional critique. By way of several artwork examples such as Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum (1992), George Adéagbo’s La Colonisation belge en Afrique (2000), Santu Mofokeng’s Black Photo Album / Look at Me 1890–1950 (1997) and Emily Jacir’s ex libris (2010–12), the notion of the archive is shown to nuance the idea that a structure or an institution is defined as much by what is excluded as by what is included therein. Not only does the institutional definition of art make critique of the institution an urgent and complex focus for artists, but the concept of the archive ties institutional critique to broader practices of questioning historical, gendered and ethnic exclusions. Historical and political events add further complexity and urgency to the connection between critique and the archive, seen for instance in the ending of apartheid in South Africa and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there. The chapter shows that archive art practices at the turn of the twenty-first century tend to avoid head-on attack on the structures they critique, and instead engage in strategic destabilisation and undermining, where the sense of uncertainty is an integral part of the critical endeavour.

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Art + Archive

Understanding the archival turn in contemporary art


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