Departing from History: Sharon Hayes, Reenactment and Archival Practice in Contemporary Art
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This thesis addresses reenactment and archival practice in the work of Sharon Hayes, a mid-career multi-media artist renowned for her use of archival documents to pose questions about history, politics, and speech. I do this through analyses of two of Hayes’s projects: the series In the Near Future (2005-2009) and a series of projects the artist refers to as “love addresses.” While these projects appropriate and repeat historical documents, Hayes’s work is especially interesting for the way it emphasizes difference over authenticity and explores the ways meaning shifts across temporal, geographic, and social contexts. In contrast to scholars who argue that Hayes’s practice is nostalgic and serves to decontextualize and depoliticize history, my thesis argues that the pedagogical aspects of Hayes’s work and her performative engagements with historical material are deeply political and contextual. My thesis demonstrates that Hayes’s distinctive contribution is to model historical agency and imagine alternative futures.