The Redacted History of The Institute of Contextualism presents a stand-still, a murmuring social commentary about privacy, immediacy and our desire for validation. An experiment or artwork in itself, the work traces The Institute of Contextualism; a group of artists who created artworks without seeking recognition or praise.
Through a multitude of platforms – found objects and photographs; recordings on vinyl and cassette; spoken word; videos; social media posts; and in its book form – the project, acknowledges the un-acknowledged and the un-known – artists who focused to , .
If one is to encounter the work in its book form – perhaps found unexpectedly, discarded in an airport between Bangalore and Berlin, or in a bookshop sans barcode or price – the intentional removal of information will become immediately apparent and alluring. Optical designs create a vortex into the unknown, connecting to somewhere, just not here and now. Expanses of black pages, the repetition of blanked out text, collaged faces and layered identities challenge our usual expectations. It is no longer about what is seen, rather what is not.
Given time, information about the contextualist movement including its intentions, priorities, its rise and fall, can be revealed. The biographies, family-tree, stories and achievements of the artists involved, [each created from found remnants of lost people], are once again observed. But in all instances key contextual information has been forcefully removed. Like a jigsaw with a missing piece, the entire story can never be traced, it remains un-readable.
A good deed, or a jest, The Redacted History of The Institute of Contextualism tugs at the fabric of the digital age and presentation of self. The work challenges assumptions and the accessibility of information. In What one should Learn from Artists, Friedrich Nietzsche explained that we should learn how artists view the world: “For this fine power of theirs usually ceases with them where art ceases and life begins; we, however, want to be the poets of our lives, and first of all in the smallest and most commonplace matters” (1).
The inherent need to record our existence, , is a human trait that Nicholas Carr explained in When our culture’s past is lost in the cloud (2), likening cave paintings and social media posts. The shift, however as Carr reminds, is our focus on the immediate, the use of technologies that in their longevity threaten to become un-readable. We draw upon the past to influence and shape the present, yet it is the everyday that encapsulates us. Perhaps this is why the neglected realm of experience – the trivial seemingly unnoticed moments, are those that we seek to have acknowledged the most, those that we ‘overshare’.
Anonymous artists; an unidentified art movement; recordings between unrelated poets and musicians; and a book that is not accessible, only given or found, The Redacted History of The Institute of Contextualism is a reminder that we are little more than “a little germ that lives on the outer edges of an unimportant rock-ball that revolves about an insignificant star on the outer edges of one of the smallest galaxies” (3). We should marvel equally at the ordinary and at the unknown.