Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History / MASS MoCA

Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History
Mass MoCA
Opens May 27, 2006

At a time when the very idea of history seems under siege - by governments grown forgetful, by media which assaults already shortened attention spans with ever tighter news cycles, and by historians themselves, who are provocatively re-interpreting long held truths - artists are exploiting the material of history to shape and give new meaning to the present. Ahistoric Occasion spotlights the growing interest in historic reenactment and revision in contemporary art.

Artists include: Paul Chan, Jeremy Deller, Peggy Diggs, Felix Gmelin, Kerry James Marshall, Trevor Paglen, Greta Pratt, Dario Robleto, Nebojsa Seric-Shoba, Allison Smith, and Yinka Shonibare

Ninteen Lincolns
Greta Pratt

Artist Statement

Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most esteemed presidents. Every school child learns about his modest upbringing in a humble log cabin and how he walked miles to borrow a book, and read by the light of a kerosene lantern. Physically Lincoln was an awkward man, tall and gangly, with a hollow face and wild hair. Yet in spite of his lack of formal education, modest means, and physical awkwardness, Lincoln rose to the highest office in the land. Lincoln is revered because he embodies one of America’s most cherished tenets, that the common man, through sheer hard work and determination, can elevate his status in society.

These men all belong to The Association of Lincoln Presenters. They are passionate about Lincoln and spend time studying, reading and performing for school groups, community celebrations, and senior citizen centers. Each one started this unusual occupation for a different reason, but all became completely immersed in the ideals of Abraham Lincoln.

I photographed the men singly to allow each the opportunity to portray their idea of Lincoln. I asked them to write a brief statement about why they choose to portray Lincoln. Here are the words of Lincoln Number Six:
Lincoln brings out the best in me. He challenges me to love and understand my wife and children. His example encourages me to trust my savior Jesus, when I can’t see how anything good can come out of a seemingly impossible situation. He teaches me it is possible to defeat my enemies by befriending them. He probes the patriotism of each of us by reminding us of the willingness of our predecessors to risk everything on behalf of a country with great promise but a precarious future.
The portraits share a muted palate of colors that binds them together as a group suggesting a communal identity. The background, a softly focused landscape, references historic portrait painting and connects the Lincolns to the vast American wilderness where the common man was able to build a new life.

These photographs are a continuation of my quest to understand how I, and we, remember history. My intention is to comment on the way a society, composed of individuals, is held together through the creation of its history and heroic figures.