In contemporary art, the archive is frequently explored as a tool to cope with and understand history. Here, I’ve picked two projects that explore identity through documentation: one from Margia Kramer in the ‘80s, one from Jonathas de Andrade in 2009. Each explores the idea of myth making, storytelling, and the deliberate construction of history with misinformation disguised as truth.
Artist Jonathas de Andrade used journals and photographs that are not originally connected and threads them together to create one narrative. I recently saw his work, Ressaca Tropical (Tropical Hangover), on view at the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Ressaca is a word used to describe the moon’s influence of the tides and is slang for “Hangover” which brings to mind that familiar process of piecing events together after a wild night out. Found images and journals are presented on the wall as a timeline building a visual history of the city of Recife in northern Brazil. Much like our memories, there are gaps in the story and what Andrade pieces together is sometimes unreliable. Read more on this project here.
Activist artist Margia Kramer’s publication Essential Documents brings attention to FBI files that were part of a slandering mission undergone against actress Jean Seberg after the actress donated money to the Black Panther Party. Seberg is remembered as a fashion and film icon, but the less recounted part of her story is the harmful FBI investigation. Kramer’s work catalogs that trauma and tells of misinformation provided to the press by the FBI. Soon after Seberg’s death Kramer made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the release of those FBI files. FOIA requests are an important part of Kramer’s work and her way of of building a critical consciousness around government surveillance and handling of information. Read more on this project here.
Both artists are using primary source material (i.e. letters, photography, government documents) which we take to be trustworthy and unassailable, to show how the authority of the documents should be questioned. Not only are our memories flawed but items kept in an archive have the potential to be misconstrued too.