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Research: Artists who interrupt history

My project has a primary source of a set of historical letters and my goal is to interrupt this history to create a contemporary narrative. So I decided to look at some artists who interrupt history in their work to gain inspiration.

I’ve looked at the work of Nigel Grimmer for a previous project but he continues to remind me of the potential of abstract juxtaposition to create very striking work in his latest work, Art Drag Album. I love how he uses found objects and reinvents them in new situations. The duplication of colours and clothing from the inside to the outside of the frame seals the picture and background together but then we have tension between female pictures and clearly male models. Is Grimmer commenting on the male gaze here or is he just having fun? I like to think both are going on. The fact that the model is not holding the picture makes it appear as if the male pose has been inadvertently interrupted by the picture being stuck in front of them. There certainly are lots of questions thrown up by what we are being shown and I like that lack of clarity of meaning.

New York-based photographer Catherine Panebianco compresses the space between family memories and her life at present through her series, No Memory Is Ever Alone. In contrast to Grimmer, this work is very personal, reflective and is either fondly reminiscent of the past or reflecting on something that was missing. Is the artist is searching for unanswered questions? Of a lonely childhood or lack of love? The fact that she has painstakingly found the original photo locations speaks of an obsession to find answers or rekindle something. Significantly, Panebianco does not show her face, she invites us to join her as a viewer of the scene. Her vignettes of her historical family life create a ‘place within a place’. My conclusion is that she has very fond memories of her past and this work brings those memories right back into view in the present day.

No Memory is Ever Alone by Catherine Panebianco, 2020

Richard Dawson is a folk musician and artist. His music is discordant and ranges from quiet ballads to furious protest. He is an acquired taste but I find him completely original and when I saw him live it was spellbinding. I discovered that he also creates art and his works include surreal paintings and collage. I particularly enjoyed the series of cards he created below, which he simply called Trumps.

This is a simple idea – a collection of biblical figures who have been given bold characteristics and it is both clever, original and engaging. Joseph having low sex appeal is particularly entertaining. Dawson has created his own interruption of history that offers a new twist on accepted truth. A childish game is an entertaining contemporary twist and the humour appeals to me.


These artists create work that includes a tension between the historical and the contemporary element that has interrupted it. With all of them, something has been ignited and new narrative explodes in all directions. I find the humour of Grimmer and Dawson particularly appealing, but the locational element of Panebianco adds an extra level of potency.

I have been looking at options for adding and analogue layer on top of my data source and a combination of humour, geography and possibly photography may be such a combination.

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