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Becoming Past

History in Contemporary Art

2015
Author:

Jane Blocker

Becoming Past

A brilliantly argued call for the presence of time and history in art today

Rather than questioning whether there is—or should be—contemporary art history, Jane Blocker argues that we should be asking how. Setting the idea of temporality decisively in the realm of art, Becoming Past is crucial for artists, art historians, curators, and scholars interested in the role of history in the practice of art.

A timely intervention into ongoing debates about temporal dimension of performance and art, Becoming Past is an engaged critical work that takes historiography as an innovative way of approaching contemporary art.

Branislav Jakovljević, Stanford University

Is there such a thing as contemporary art history? The contemporary, after all—as much as we may want to consider it otherwise—is being made history as it happens. By what means do we examine this moving target? These questions lie at the center of Jane Blocker’s Becoming Past. The important point is not whether there is—or should be—contemporary art history, Blocker argues, but how.

Focusing on a significant aspect of current art practice⎯in which artists have engaged with historical subject matter, methods, and inquiry⎯Blocker asks how the creation of the artist implicates and interrogates that of the art historian. She moves from art history and theater, to performance and literature as she investigates a series of works, including performances by the collaborative group Goat Island, the film Deadpan by Steve McQueen, the philosophies of science fiction writer Samuel Delany and documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee, the film Amos Fortune Road by Matthew Buckingham, and sculptures by Dario Robleto.

Many books have sought to understand the key directions of contemporary art. In contrast, Becoming Past is concerned with the application of art history in the pursuit of such trends. Setting the idea of temporality decisively in the realm of art, Blocker’s work is crucial for artists, art historians, curators, critics, and scholars of performance and cultural studies interested in the role of history in the practice of art.

Becoming Past

Jane Blocker is professor of art history at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Seeing Witness: Visuality and the Ethics of Testimony and What the Body Cost: Desire, History, and Performance (both from Minnesota), as well as Where Is Ana Mendieta?: Identity, Performativity, and Exile.

Becoming Past

A timely intervention into ongoing debates about temporal dimension of performance and art, Becoming Past is an engaged critical work that takes historiography as an innovative way of approaching contemporary art.

Branislav Jakovljević, Stanford University

Becoming Past is about contemporary art’s engagement in a special kind of history making—one that unsettles the linearity of the historical narrative, as well as history’s apparent mastery and neat conclusions over what it seeks to document. In this intelligent, deeply insightful and elegantly written book, Jane Blocker pushes this engagement even further by asking: What would it mean to take contemporary artistic practices ‘seriously as history rather than simply as art’?

Christine Ross, author of The Past Is the Present; It’s the Future Too: The Temporal Turn in Contemporary Art*

Becoming Past

Contents

Introduction: History as Prosthesis
1. Wooden Legs: Goat Island's Acts of Repair
2. Houses Falling Down: Archival Violence in Steve McQueen's Deadpan
3. Incorrect and Incomplete: Ross McElwee's Fictions and Samuel Delany's Lies
4. The Empty Stage: A Story About the Past by Matthew Buckingham
5. Stupid Birds: Temporal Dissidence in The Lastmaker
6. Transitional Objects: Dario Robleto's Spools
Conclusion. Wooden Feet: Francis Alÿs and Syncopated Time
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index