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The Artistry of Heritage

Heritage as an Agent of Change (Epistemologies, Ontologies, Teaching)ArtsArchitecture and Urbanism
Regular session
11:00, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (6 hours)

This session explores artist-history exchanges in the context of heritage sites, venues and spaces, and considers recent curatorial and artistic interventions and performative strategies, such as decolonial methodologies. Drawing on disciplinary art history, this session approaches heritage sites as strategically re-deployed historic structures that function as representational signs – artifactual objects furnished with other objects that cumulatively and, by virtue of their provenance, preservation, conservation and subsequent institutionalization, validate the interpretation by reconceiving authority as so-called “historical authenticity.”  Historians, curators and interpreters use the objects at hand, conducting extensive research, to offer interpretations that position the site’s representation as legitimate, credible and ultimately authoritative. While historical venues can provide visitors with experiential moments of different times and places, present-day circumstances often require recognizing, acknowledging, eradicating, reconceptualising or decolonizing perceptions and representations of the past.  

Over the past three decades in North America, artists, curators and heritage practitioners have collaborated to develop contemporary art exhibitions installed within historical sites, projects referred to in related scholarship either as “museum interventions” or, more pointedly, “artist-history interventions.”  As art historians, curators and practicing artists Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher explain, the term “museum intervention” describes “the collaboration between artists and institutions to transform the museum from a container of cultural artifacts to a medium of contemporary work. In this practice, the museum context becomes the raw material or ‘cultural readymade’ for artistic analysis, commentary and reconfiguration” (2002, 15). Artist-history exchanges thus provide innovative ways to satisfy cravings for uniquely novel and authentic experiences and so, with the advent of Web 2.0 and social media, they foster opportunities for dynamic interaction and thus function as a strategy to entice new audiences, as identified in the 2010 American Art Museums’ report on diversity. Significantly, they also frequently implicate viewers in their own subjectivities by “tweaking” the expected conventions of installations (Stokes Sims, 12-16). While some interventions aim to reconfigure these places as destinations appealing to a global (or international) audience, others critique the policies, practices and power structures governing heritage sites.  In terms of the latter, such endeavours oftentimes seek to disrupt authoritative experiences of the past, thereby re-activating heritage sites as tools to foster communal and critical reflection; these projects require deliberately strategic and calculated considerations of the degree to which the conventional representation(s) might be challenged.  Accordingly, this session invites individuals engaged in the fields of visual and material culture – emerging, midcareer, and established artists and cultural workers alike – to consider, describe, and analyze how practicing artists contribute to heritage site development, programming and policies and reveal new ways to think about local, regional, national, and global histories. We invite papers that consider the following, but not limited to, artists interventions and critical engagement with historic sites (monuments, museums, and public spaces) in relation to decolonizing strategies, the living archive, artistic collaboration, and community engaged art/curatorial practice. Finally, we encourage the consideration of how projects presented draw on practices, concepts, and techniques explored decades earlier, be they “soft” (invited/commissioned) or “hard” (uninvited).

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, Division of Art History and Critical Studies, Canada
Assistant Professor
Lakehead University
Contract Instructor

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