AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

Archive as Metaphor: Grid Photography

by Allison Westerfield

Institution: Savannah College of Art and Design
Year: 2016
Keywords: Thesis (M.A.)  – Art History; Savannah College of Art and Design  – Department of Art History
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2092516
Full text PDF: http://ecollections.scad.edu/iii/cpro/DigitalItemViewPage.external?sp=1003255


'Since the mid-20th century, numerous artists have created and accumulated large bodies of photographs displayed in grid-like formations, thereby creating 'archives' of photographs. Investigating the intersection of photography and the archive — a tangible, indexical, collection — in contemporary art demonstrates an urgency to understand grid-like installations. Contemporary artists use the combination of photographic imagery with an 'archival' visual display to pose questions of how we collect, store, and access information in an image-saturated, data-driven world. This thesis argues that contemporary art installations of gridded photographs become archives by adopting the archive’s power to organize, structure, validate, and house information. Case studies of modern and contemporary artists, including Bernd and Hilla Becher, Penelope Umbrico, and Victoria Sambunaris, reveal how photographic and archival art simultaneously confirms and challenges the authority of both photography and the archival structure. We live in a world oversaturated with photographic data; audiences fetishize imagery, photographing and sharing every detail about one’s day, overloading our senses. In response to this onslaught of visual information, some artists organize photographs into a clean grid, 'archiving' photographic data into legible, understandable installations. By contrast, other artists capitalize on the dizzy proliferation of copies in our media-saturated age, assembling copied photographs into an 'anti-archive' that essentially parodies the archival structure. Artists Andy Warhol, Sherrie Levine, and Alan McCollum created 'anti-archives' of repeated imagery inundating society with reproductions of the same images over and over. By exploring historic and contemporary examples and definitions of the archive, this thesis questions whether the overexposure to images has magnified photography’s power or emptied the medium of meaning in our data-hungry world. Examining archives as installations in the museum or gallery setting further demonstrates both the artist’s and curator’s power to influence meaning. Gridded installations capitalize on the photograph’s power to record 'accurate' information and exploit the archive’s capacity to arrange and store seemingly factual records. By storing and arranging history in an ostensibly objective format, archives can provide artistic, aestheticized, subjective viewpoints on the past.' Keywords: archive, photography, data, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Penelope Umbrico, Victoria Sambunaris, Andy Warhol, museum display, curatorial practices. Advisors/Committee Members: CHAIR: Goldstein, Holly Markovitz, DiFuria,Arthur J., Carr, Harriet (Christian).