In the essay “Research and Display: Transformations of the Documentary Practice in Recent Art,” Jan Verwoert provides another useful distinction between different kinds of documentary practice. Speaking specifically about installations, Verwoert draws attention to role personal interests play in directing the artist’s researching gaze. These idiosyncratic motivations mean that the legitimation of installation works are fundamentally different from what one would find in the academic field where it is recourse to the scientific method that provides an air of certainty. So, what installations loose by way of scientific objectivity, they gain by way of “a politics of articulated interests. (The personal mode of address invites viewers to invest interest and take on responsibility. At the same time the authority of the work is relativized, since the encounter  between producer and recipient is one between particular individuals.)” Here is the space of repercussion! However, Verwoert very quickly goes on invoke Theodor Adorno’s claim that the essay form, even when academic, is “characterized by personal interest articulated in the guise of libidinous curiosity.”

The academic essay and the installation; documentary and vérité; filmmaking and media art. It seems that as much as we search for a limiting description between one practice and another, they are at least as much so implicated the one in the other. This is Verwoert’s suggestion of a fertile common ground that these diversity of practices can share:

“Based on the criteria provided by a shared critical sensibility, the multiplicity of practices can actually be understood and appreciated as a quickly evolving and highly differentiated field of discourse that asks for  and allows for the critical comparison of different conceptual aesthetics. What makes this discourse fascinating is that it thrives both on the urgent desire to represent specific realities and on a critical alertness to the power structures and ideologies that govern such representations. This critical awareness implies a categorical analysis of these structures and ideologies. Yet, documentary practices take a decisive step beyond categorical criticism by challenging the laws of representation in the process of producing representations. In this sense the increased interest in the production and discussion of documentary work in the expanded field of contemporary artistic discourse can be understood as a move towards a critique of representation that puts structural analysis to practice in the process of answering to the need to address the reality of our surroundings.”


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