A Year of "Shoveling"

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago
Recently, I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago for an exhibit, The Way of Shovel: Art as Archaeology. The show offers various artists’ creative takes and appropriations on subject of archaeology. The exhibit peaks my interest because of the concept of crossover of art, archaeology, and educational inquiry. It includes audio recordings of our own curator at the Oriental Institute, where I currently work, discussing interpretations of the “real” archaeologist on the selected topics brought up in the exhibit. What was most fascinating to me is how contemporary artists have taken archaeology as a metaphor and method of inquiry on issues relating to philosophy, politics, and activism. At the beginning of 2014, I want to use this exhibit to reflect upon what I have learned from the field of archaeology as a museum educator in the past year.

The earlier stages of the archeological process involve pre-field investigation, survey, and excavation. In The Way of Shovel exhibit, one of the artists, Derek Brunen, created a three-part installation, Plot (Tombstone 2013), which was presented in video, showing the artist digging his own grave in a cemetery located in his hometown. The artist uses the tool – the shovel – as a metaphor in engaging greater philosophical questions about the meaning of life, death, labor, fate, and the relationship between self and the world. When seeing the video of the artist’s performative, repetitive, and meditative movements of digging, I thought of it as a manifestation of life as a perpetual process of learning and making connection with our world. We learn through questioning, doing,  and digging deeper, then repeating this.

Michael Rakowitz, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, 2013.
The Museum of Contemporary Art.
In the other room, Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is a collection of re-created sculptural statues made of Middle Eastern product packaging materials. These objects represent the lost artifacts due to the US-Iraq war in 2003. The artist’s work delivers ironies through the idea of opposites – through the playfulness of the images of the materials used, it reinforces the seriousness of the political-diplomatic issues that were being dealt with; and through the use of modern packaging materials on the objects, it also reminded me of the vulnerability of the world ancient cultural heritage in light of warfare.

In 2013, I had written two posts relating my exploration of archaeology: From Art to Archaeology and  Encountering a Mover-Shaker: Gertrude Bell. In this new year, I look forward to sharing more on my journey exploring the archaeology – perhaps like the archaeologists exploring and excavating their field, and maybe like the artists “shoveling” our history. As a museum educator, our museum collection will be my fieldwork where I can discover ways to engage our audience such as families, students, teachers, and the public, and help facilitate your inquiries about our history.