zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


alexis vaillant
love for sale
lutwidge finch a novel: chapter 5
evil camouflage


To sum up, the documentary tendency consists in :

- A roundup of informations which documents an (artist) experiment on another one or on itself, close to a report: what you see is what / who I looked for.

- An assemblage of results (immediately interactive on account of their purpose - the lecture) formally heterogeneous and stemming from a research which steps are contained in the evidences of the organization which constitutes it. Documents are produced and showed.

- A set of documented moments focused upon their way of exhibition.

- A theorical field circumscribed by the organization of informations which, in the end, creates an environment.


Most of the devices produced in this context go on with the academism link to the concept historically dated of the "dematerialisation of the art object". According to Lucy Lippard, this process pointed out the cultural practices which "de emphasize material aspects (permanence, uniqueness, decorative attraction) of the work of art" with the consciousness that "a piece of paper or photograph is as much an object, or as ´material, as a ton of lead".

The interactive and relational situations, the work as a flow, the recyclings and (re)activations, the almost autonomous contexts of production..., which characterize art of the 90's, developed (in a photographic sense) the level of assimilation of the processes (historical, cultural, mechanical, theorical) of dematerialisation. In these processes, the notion of "documentation-work" expresses itself in a determining manner. It is important to analyze these links today because they are absorbed into a tendency, in a kind (a form) of academism.

In the 60's and 70's, the "dematerialisation of the art object" fitted to a strong reaction against the market and its bourgeois avatars, sign of the cultural goods' movement into a post-industrial consumer society. To be seen, these environments, partly stemming from questioning post-performance and its specific way of being exhibited, made way for the inscription of facts and elements of "the real" in the artistic context (from Dada to Schwitters; from Pop Art to the Nouveaux Realistes; from technics and tactics of recording with cinema and video to the dialectics of "site / non-site", from "anarchitecture" and 60's-70's video performances, from 80ís Haim Steinbach's and Jeff Koons' objects to the contemporary Duchampian ersatz).

First of all, in a continuity of cinema, I mean through a management of the relationships between reality -immediate or symbolical - and its representations. Then through their inscription into the spheres of intimacy and interactivity, from proximity to networks. Most of these points often legitimate fields which have produced artistical postures considered during their emergence as conceptual gaps. But in fact they clearly became formalizing documentations which retrospectively produced the contemporary documentary tendency's specificities.

Some artists try to superimpose the mechanisms of documentation on their reinvestments as the necessary condition of their passage to a "documenting situation". From Robert Smithson's "site-specific" to Dan Graham's Homes for America for example, from the Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's "50 / 50" to Pierre Huyghe's intention "not to add anything else to the world", from the specific use of photography by Matthieu Laurette (Free Sample Demix, the files, reserve and stock) to the mechanism documenting the private use of the furniture by Joe Scanlan, from Jeremy Deller's search of Baez to the one of Ian Wilson by Hinrich Sachs. These facts and acts displace the "work of Art" into the documentary filter, and so avoid any final formalization.

The most visible limit of this documentary tendency is its own glade. It circumsizes the traces now considered as a report. This report is assimilated to the work of art in itself even tough it is a promise of a work of art. It is a paradoxical promise, since it works as the limit of a work in progress. A kind of "Canada Dry" but now corrupted by alcohol. It is something which looks like a work, is not a work but becomes referring to "a work in progress" under the cover of the use of documents.

The present works aimed at, in a (critical) logic of the recycling (Laurette, Scanlan, Huyghe), (re)inventing the found (Deller) and produced (Sachs) documents.

In the confused context of the trace fetishization, these works generate elements (plastic and structural) and become answers to the social, cultural and theorical potential included in the notion of document (in comparison to the one of work).

Beyond the forms produced, these works currently appear in a context where historical documents and documents with historic value are increasing, and constitute the "work (of art) moment" dimension (i.e. living reactivable characters by Pierre Joseph) in the durability of the document (what the posters by Pierre Joseph are). Our most contemporary relationship to History expresses this way itself today, elaborating plays of scale between macro and micro-history, in order to replay the relationship between the work (of art) and the fact spaced out in the time which constitutes it.

Jeremy Deller put up a project of research on the miners' strikes in Great Britain, Matthieu Laurette offered two pages of his web site on nationalities, Joe Scanlan redeveloped his boxes inside the publication, Pierre Huyghe read differently "the house or home project?" and Hinrich Sachs wrote once more to Ian Wilson through the publication.

This type of answers to the documentary tendency is one of the most emblematic sign that the production of information asks to its possibilities of inscription. How, in those fields which no longer set down the statement of the work of art in relation to the space where it takes place, does the work (of art) currently deal with the spaces' links? Between speaking, memory, sources and sorting, collective imaginary. Furthermore, it seems important today to determine the nature of events produced by "a" source of information.