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Monument—Document—Mockument

Octavian Esanu

 

 

The talk, which was delivered at the workshop “Global Art History and the Documentary Turn” (held recently at NYU Abu Dhabi), considered the role of documentation in contemporary art. It addressed the document in art history and theory by defining and analyzing the historical relation: “monument – document – mockument.” Drawing on Paul Ricoeur’s theoreticization of the document as an instrument of time (or as a “practical connector” between lived time and universal time, and as part of the relation “archive – document – trace”) the talk discussed types of time-instruments used in different art historical periods. I argued that while the monument was the dominant pre- and late-modern artistic mnemonic device (since as for Baudelaire and other 19th century critics, art plays a central role in the construction of memory ); and while the document has occupied a central place in high modernism and early postmodernism (from the “factographical” discourse of the Soviet avant-garde to the post-WWII rise of the document as the primary authenticator of ephemeral and dematerialized artistic practices); the mockument emerges as the central instrument of time, or as a (counter)mnemonic device, in various regions of global contemporary art undergoing capitalist modernization and transition to contemporary art. By historicizing the “heroic” function of the monument, and the “positivistic” or “factual” status of the document, we arrive at contemporary mockumentary practices – distrustful of both heroism and historicism – supported by numerous examples from various art scenes (from late or post-socialist art mocking collectively or individually socialist monuments and documents in Eastern Europe, to Middle Eastern contemporary art notorious for its fictitious artistic engagement with the theme of the Lebanese Civil War). The latter in particular has been recently used to theorize the “fiction of contemporary art,” by such leading critics of the contemporary, as Peter Osborne, and others.