The ambition of Speaking Volumes – to compare and assess the manners in which the documentary format has represented artistic practice – carries a significance far beyond its status as the catalogue to the video exhibition of the same name. Besides contextualizing the sixteen hours of videotapes, spanning forty years, that comprised the exhibition, Speaking Volumes articulates a series of concerns about ideology, communication and identity that are essential to the reception of art as well as to its production.
Speaking Volumes points to a number of sites in which the documentary format has been utilized to explain, sensationalize, critique or manifest politically-engaged art: museum films aiming to “educate the masses,” news and journalistic treatments that romanticize or demonize contemporary art practice, artists’ videos that archive ephemeral moments of community or that serve as vehicles of social commentary and political agency.
As Robertson laments, many recent representations of art seem to treat it as a “political vacancy that. . . can be written into by arts and news journalists at will.” The value of Speaking Volumes lies then not only with its call to historians and theorists to examine these and other mediations of cultural production, but also for artists to continually (and strategically) document their communities and artistic practices, and ensure that at least some images, and some voices, will persist as incontrovertible reminders of their motives and convictions. J. D.
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