Thursday, September 13, 2007

Archaeology and record-keeping

Even with the best records and notation, future generations will not be able to see the entire picture that describes our story. We can note every moment, comment on everything we experience, and still only create a summary record of our existence. In many instances, that is exactly what artists are addressing. They are making notes. They are creating records; creating artifacts for the future. Text has a limited ability to describe experience. Visual artists make attempts to describe experience with a different vocabulary and still can only describe pieces.

Archaeology attempts to assemble the pieces that they find and create a larger picture that will tell the story. They make assumptions and guesses as they gather clues and find more artifacts. The most comprehensively told story, with the largest, most complete record is still far from being absolutely complete. The problem is exasperated by the low-fidelity with which most messages are transmitted through time.

I have a sculptor friend in who's work Time plays a major role. His constructions fall apart easily. He does not seem to mind. Further, he seems to enjoy the decay and chance to change the work while holding onto the original idea. It is a recapitulation of an idea, but not a copy. I have watched him work like an archaeologist as he carefully disassembles parts of the deteriorating artifact (sculpture), attempting to remember his original intent and inspiration as he reconstructs the piece.

My work, lately, has relied heavily on keeping a record of the work as it progresses. Each layer of paint has varying degrees of transparency so that the earlier layer can still be seen (if only partially). With each succesive layer, no matter how transparent, the earlier ones fade and become part of an ever-increasingly cryptic message.

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