The Art of Archaeology: The Archaeological Process in the Work of Robert Smithson, Mark Dion, and Fred Wilson
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This dissertation discusses the relationship between contemporary artwork and current archaeological theory and practice. I argue that contemporary art and scientific archaeology are both practices conducted in the present facing similar issues, such as the need to attend to power relations between past and present, and the documentation and representation of ephemeral activities. Because artists and archaeologists offer different responses to those similar issues, contemporary artwork can help materialize the very process of doing and theorizing archaeology by making its contradictions and modus operandi visible. I focus on both the social context and the circulation and reception of the work of American artists Robert Smithson, Mark Dion, and Fred Wilson. The specific artworks in question are all ephemeral, site-specific installations that have been recorded through photographs. Although Smithson, Dion, and Wilson do not intend to comment theoretically on archaeological practice, the nature of their own creative process reproduces archaeology's dynamics posing metaphors that resonate with postprocessual archaeologies, particularly with the practice of British archaeologists Michael Shanks and Christopher Tilley. I propose that the basis of the resonance between the work of the artists and the archaeologists' stems from their ability to blur the boundaries of each discipline. The work of Robert Smithson, Mark Dion, and Fred Wilson has only been partially compared with archaeological practice. This dissertation underscores how artists and archaeologists rethought their fields after the advent of postmodernism, as well as to what extent, and why, those redefinitions are similar. Furthermore, I demonstrate how the groundbreaking work of Smithson in the late 1960s not only was influential to later generations of artists such as Dion and Wilson, but also seemed to anticipate by over ten years many postulates of archaeology's own self-critique.