For some years now, history has attracted growing interest within contemporary visual art and photography. Given the expanding role of images in contemporary culture in general, and in historical discourse in particular, the present day provides a highly relevant social context. History is the focus of public attention more today than ever before. At the same time, the old certainties as to ‘truths’ in history have been overthrown; in recent decades, social upheavals have led us to question traditional historical narratives. The mass media have assumed the role of historiographers on a vast scale. The flip side of this development is that visual culture is losing its ability to convey history in all its variety. The mediatization and globalization of our culture are gradually dulling our collective historical awareness.
One way in which artists react to this is by trying to develop new ways of thinking about history and its representation. Their aim is to scrutinize our relationship with the past and disentangle the process by which images are formed from the contemporary political, commercial and media scene. Their work opens up new ways of thinking and talking about the representation of history.
There is of course nothing new about visual artists, photographers, filmmakers and other image producers paying close attention to history. But The Past in the Present focuses on all artistic output that is essentially different in the handling of images and in representing historic data, with the aim of constructing innovative challenges to prevailing historical narratives. In many ways, The Past in the Present serves to reevaluate all the implications encapsulated in the representation of history.
The Past in the Present was initiated by Flip Bool and Frank van der Stok in 1998 and has been curated since the outset by Frank van der Stok.
The research time needed to produce Questioning History (2005–2006) and Les Extremes ne se touchent pas (2009–2010) were generously supported by the Dutch Foundation for Arts, Design and Architecture.