The Way of the Shovel

This week, I went to see “The Way of the Shovel,” an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It wasn’t quite what I had expected. I had thought it was going to be more about archeology itself rather than a reimaging of art as archeology. Or as the  exhibition explains, it “imagines the art world as an alternative “History Channel” that is as concerned with remembering histories as it is with challenging their truthfulness.” Much of it was artists’ conception of what constituted archeology rather than archeology as an academic field. As I previously mentioned, I am fascinated by archeology and was hoping for a consideration of it directly.

But it had it had its high points. First, I got to see my first Mark Dion installation. I saw him speak as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival in the fall and I was enchanted. Here he recreated an archeologist’s office from the messy desk, the various relevant subject matter books, to the gloves, and shovels. Archeology deals with objects so it was neat to see the view turned around; it was a view of the objects for archeology. I could almost imagine what a treasure trove it would be if the installation were buried for 1000 years and future archeologists find it!

The real highlight for me was an incredible work called “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz. It was a table with various brightly colored statues on them. Each object is a recreation of an object lost from the Iraqi Museum when it was looted in 2003 during the war. Each object is delicately reconstructed using paper products, like newspapers and food papers that are from Iraq or the Middle East in general. Each object has a card describing the object as if it were in a museum or in storage, like its dimensions, material, age, and more. Each card has a quotation about the incident from the era from people trying to articulate the horror of the looting to Donald Rumsfeld’s glib remarks.

Lion of “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz
Lion of “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz

It really wounds you to realize that this table is a small number of objects that are lost to us. Some were looted and probably reside in people’s private collections while others were probably destroyed. Moreover, the choice of ephemeral material, like paper, only serves to remind you that these objects have lasted 100s if not 1000s of years and now they are gone. These are mere facsimiles (though incredible) but they will not last.

Statues “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz
Statues “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz

Absolutely astonishing work. Bravo Mr. Rakowitz bravo.

So go check it out before it closes on March 9th.

There is also a nice room of Calder mobiles and ceramics by Lille Carre, an artist and cartoonist. Interestingly, there is a video installation where two different videos are projected on opposing walls. They are off set so animation happens in one and then the other. It’s almost as if they are reacting to one another. Wonderful concept.

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