History in ruin: the reconstructed aesthetics of Michael Stevenson

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Publication details

Hill, W 2018, 'History in ruin: the reconstructed aesthetics of Michael Stevenson', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, no. 2, pp. 163-178.

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Since the late 1990s, the work of the New Zealand artist Michael Stevenson has centred on reconstructed historical objects that resemble artefacts from archaeology, anthropology and material culture disciplines. As part of a broader sensibility of twenty-first-century ‘archival,’ ‘archaeological’ and ‘historiographic’ art, Stevenson and his peers have prompted much discussion about the legacy of 1970s institutional critique on post-1990s practice-based treatments of history and museology. What makes Stevenson so interesting within this lineage is his inclination to research relatively overlooked past events in order to problematise a clear line between historical perspective and aesthetic experience. Although Stevenson's work conjures the empiricism of the social sciences and the reflexivity of institutional critique, its nostalgic, fragmented, and multi-temporal characteristics hint at a contemporary treatment of the romantic ruin. Fascinated with the intersections of cultural and economic histories yet sceptical of periodisation, his locating of nostalgia within critical practice reveals the struggle to grasp one's present, endowing viewers with the capacity to reconstruct for themselves the significance of his own reconstructions.

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