Social documents: the mediation of social relations in lens-based contemporary art
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Lloyd, Kirsten Ruth
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This thesis examines the trajectory of the ‘social document’ in contemporary art since 1989. Though art’s turn towards documentary modes has now been widely noted, this study establishes a longer, more complex engagement with the dialogue between the lens and the situational immediacy of artists’ social interventions. I argue that the social documents that arise through the reconfigured artwork can be connected with the demand for the circulation of social knowledge and increasingly urgent questions of realism, a methodology that divided the avant-garde and neo-avant-garde of the 20th century. Central issues broached by the thesis include the demand for the extraction and re-articulation of truth, the role of visual representation in the address to totality and the emergence of (independent) knowledge and (critical) pedagogy as key sites of struggle. My analysis begins, in Part I, with a selective mapping of the historical terrain through which I offer re-readings of prescient works produced in the 1960s and 1970s in a range of capitalist and state socialist contexts including Mary Kelly, Grupo de Artistas de Vanguardia and Sanja Iveković. I then move on to a more detailed appraisal of the ascendancy of the social document in art following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the consolidation of global capitalism, situating its various calibrations in relation to what I call biopolitical globalisation. Part II takes a thematic approach to the material, using case studies to examine a) the curatorial narrativisation and production of social documents, b) the relevance of feminist elaborations on theories of social reproduction to analyses of the social document and art history, c) the persistent invocation of ethics in discussions of works that document the social subjects of the new economy, d) the implications of addressing the social document as a realist enterprise. Artists discussed in Part II include Anton Vidokle, Martha Rosler, WochenKlausur, Dani Marti and Pilvi Takala.