Documenting War by Archiving the Mega-archive: The Viewer as the Authority of History Production

By Kira van Lil.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Documentary practices become popular in times of crises; consequently, they have experienced a revival in the last two decades. This paper looks at the role of documentary practices in conveying the current wars, especially as they are applied by artists. I am not interested in stirring the traditional discourse on whether or not documentary practice is inherently un-artistic. Instead, I ask why artists today rely on documentary methodology and create archives while demonstrating an awareness of the prevalent “documentary uncertainty.”
Artists Thomas Hirschhorn and Sean Snyder pursue opposite approaches in putting together archives of images of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they retrieve from social network databases of professional as well as amateur sources. Hirschhorn accrues graphic photos of mutilations and atrocities that are usually withheld from the Western public, while Snyder excludes these images of violence and instead collects representations of banal everyday life in the war zone which does not seem to differ much from our unharmed lives. What are the implications of these artists’ strategies? While war photographers and amateurs engage in a relentless image production, artists suggest a critique of our unwavering belief in information. Employing documentary practices, they question the implied features like truth, reality, factuality, and objectivity at the same time.

Keywords: Documentary, Archive, Truth, Authenticity, Reality, Factuality, Information, War, Iraq, Afghanistan

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 12, pp.103-112. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 6.250MB).

Kira van Lil

Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, USA

Kira van Lil received her PhD from Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich. Since 2008, she has been an assistant professor of art history in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. Her research focus is modern and contemporary art, with publications on Otto Dix and Neue Sachlichkeit, as well as Minimal Art and Arte Povera. She is currently writing a book, How Artists Respond to War Today.

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