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Ahistoric Occasion: The Uses of History in Contemporary Art

Friday, February 23, 2007 - February 24, 2007

This two-day symposium, convened by the Clark’s Research and Academic Program in association with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), was organized in conjunction with the exhibition Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History, that was on view at MASS MoCA from May 27, 2006, through April 22, 2007. This symposium brought together scholars and exhibiting artists to discuss the role of history in contemporary art practice, examining the significance of representation in historical and cultural memory.

The role of history has increasingly become a source of heightened public interest and debate. This might best be exemplified by the rise in historical reenactments, ranging from the Battle of Lexington to World War II, which have become a popular form of public ritual. Visual artists have increasingly performed their own reenactments, re-staging a 1984 miner’s strike in Northern England, for example, or a 1968 political performance in West Berlin. In considering historical reenactment and its emergence in contemporary art, this symposium will focused on the uses of history within a larger social, political, and cultural context.

Participants discussed the visual techniques that illuminated repressed, obscured, and dismissed moments in the timelines of global history. How does a society remember? What is worth remembering?

Participants included: Paul Chan, artist, US;Jeremy Deller, artist, UK; Peggy Diggs, artist, US; Felix Gmelin, artist, Sweden; Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley; Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Harvard University; James Meyer, Emory University; Steven Nelson, University of California, Los Angeles; Greta Pratt, artist, US; Daniel Rosenberg, University of Oregon; Allison Smith, artist, US; Nato Thompson, MASS MoCA


Friday at Mass MoCA:

Welcome, introductions and tour of exhibit at MASS MoCA with Nato Thompson. This was followed by a keynote lecture by Martin Jay.

Saturday at the Clark:

Discussion: The Uses of History: Exploring the Role of History at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century

Moderator: James Meyer

Steven Nelson and Daniel Rosenberg conversed with exhibiting artists Paul Chan and Greta Pratt.

Discussion: Exploring the Rise of Reenactment as a Form of Public Memory
Moderator: Nato Thompson

Carrie Lambert-Beatty conversed with exhibiting artists Jeremy Deller, Allison Smith and Peggy Diggs.