Working Through the Past: Nordic Conceptual Art as a Tool for re-Thinking History

Skira Editore

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Kjetil R√∏ed
Skira Editore
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The concept of history evoked through art.

How do we understand art? How do we understand history? Most often these two questions are caught up in the discipline of art history or some other academic jargon. But what if instead we approach artworks as a lens for viewing the past? In Working Through the Past the art critic Kjetil Røed suggest that artworks provide not only tools for understanding our own past, but also indicate how art is entangled in the web of collective histories. Røed guides us through a range of examples from both national and international pasts, but also personal backstories. The concept of history evoked through art, he claims, is very different from the impersonal narratives of professional historians; it makes possible strikingly intimate, but fresh, encounters with remnants of what has been. In art we can experience that the past is still present through re-enacted singular events or forgotten dramas retold. Through a piece of clothing from youth, perhaps, or fragments of interiors from a childhood home – or even objects that bring repressed collective memories back into view, and demand our attention. By being more attentive to how art scratches the surface of the standardized narratives of the past, Røed claims, we might be more truthfully connected with it.