Contemporary art is often obsessed with the new, but it has recently begun to turn to projects centering on research and delving into archives, all in the name of seeking and questioning historical truth.
From filmmakers to sculptors to conceptualists, artists of all stripes are digging into the rubble of the past.
In this catalog that accompanies an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in the fall of 2013, Dieter Roelstraete gathers a diverse range of international artists to explore the theme of melding archival and experiential modes of storytelling - what he calls "the archaeological imaginary" - particularly in the wake of 9/11.
The Way of the Shovel offers a well-constructed balance among excursions into the situation of contemporary art, broad philosophical arguments around the subjects of history and the archive, and cultural analysis. Roelstraete's opening essay maps the critical terrain, while Ian Alden Russell explores the roots of archaeology and its manifestations in twentieth-century art, Bill Brown examines artistic practices that involve historical artifacts and archival material, Sophie Berrebi offers a critique of the "document" as seen in art after the 1960s, and Diedrich Diederichsen writes on the monumentalization of history in European art.
The book features work by both established and young artists, and thoughtful entries by Roelstraete accompany the exhibition catalog, along with statements from artists Moyra Davey, Rebecca Keller, Joachim Koester, Hito Steyerl, and Zin Taylor.
The first exhibition to showcase this innovative approach to some of the most intriguing art of the past decade, The Way of the Shovel is indispensable for anyone seeking to understand the forces driving contemporary art.