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Claims to Immediacy: The Artist as Historian and Eclipse at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris


From 2014-2015, we (Sayler / Morris) exhibited a large-scale video installation
commemorating the extinction of the passenger pigeon at the Massachusetts
Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). This article both describes the
context of that piece and reflects more broadly on the role of the artist as historian.
We argue for a form of history that combines both discursive and affective
elements. Ultimately, we define history not as a scientific process of unearthing
truths, but rather as making a particular claim to immediacy of past events.
We argue that to conceive of the artist as historian is to conceive of history as
a constant negotiation between the imaginary, the symbolic and the real within the
collective psyche. We see artists as important contributors to such a historiography
and see our work Eclipse as an example of this.