How do artists mine the past to explore the present? Why do some historical events shape the way we think today, and why have some been forgotten? In what ways do artists use their own histories to examine the human condition? In this episode, artists play with historical events, explore and expose commonly held assumptions about historic ‘truth’, and create narratives based on personal experiences.
A pioneer of performance as a visual art form, Marina Abramović has used her body as both subject and medium of her performances, testing her physical, mental, and emotional limits (and often pushing beyond them) in a quest for heightened consciousness, transcendence, and self-transformation. While the sources of some works lie in her personal history (the circumstances of her childhood and family life under Communist rule in the former Yugoslavia), others lie in more recent and contemporary events such as the wars in her homeland and other parts of the world. Painter and sculptor Glenn Ligon examines American identity through found sources—literature, Afrocentric coloring books, photographs—to reveal the ways in which the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and sexual politics inform our understanding of contemporary society. In striking black-and-white videos and drawings filled with punning wordplay, Mary Reid Kelley presents her take on the clash between utopian ideologies and the realities of women’s lives in the struggle for liberation and through political strife, wars, and other historical events.