Art/archaeology: beyond an archaeology of art and interpretations of the past

Lecture by Professor of Visual Archaeology Doug Bailey, Department of Anthropology San Francisco State University.


How do we move beyond practicing an archaeology of art that normally sees artefacts as art objects for us to examine and interpret? Is there any fresh territory available for us to work in that exists beyond the well-worn paths taken either by contemporary artists (such as Mark Dion) who play with archaeological materials to make their museum and gallery installations or by archaeologists who look to modern artists (such as Anthony Gormley) for new ways to explain behavior and patterns in the past?
In this lecture, I suggest that one way forward is to explore the potentials of an art/archaeology. My proposal is that we should move beyond traditional efforts to explain or interpret the past, and that we do this in a creative way that has impact on contemporary societies. To make such a move is to break with long-standing traditions of archaeological practice and thinking. An art/archaeology follows three steps: disarticulation (i.e., to break an object from its historical context); repurposing (i.e., to use that object as a raw material to make new creative work); and disruption (i.e., to fashion that new creative work in such a way that it has impact in contemporary social and political debate).

My argument is not that standard ways to study the past and explain patterns and causes of human behavior are invalid or unnecessary; on the contrary, they are of tremendous value and importance to our knowing the world that we live in, where we have come from, and where we are heading. Rather, my suggestion is that there is an additional (alternative) method of treating the remains of the past, and that this alternative moves our work into other realms of activity and consequence. The result (an art/archaeology) is neither art nor archaeology, but an invitation to explore uncharted territories beyond the boundaries of both of those disciplines. Art/archaeology: infused with the past, released from the limitations of meaning and interpretation, with affect in the present.

This is the spring semester's eighth event in the series Research Fridays at Archeology.