Lesson: Double Album: The Collection and the Archive

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Art, Poetry, Literature, and English.
  • detail of "Slumber," 2004.detail of "Slumber," 2004.

Introduction

Written by New York artist, Lan Tuazon.
Our taste of what we listen to, read, and identify with becomes our personal view of the world. A song, image or souvenir can be like a bookmark, easily bringing us back to memories of our particular taste in time and personal anecdotes associated with it. In this exhibition we see Guzman reference superheroes, Aztec gods, punk rock, and serial killers, turning to themes of disappointment, irony, and death. Steven Shearer is a collector compiling images from the web: arrangements of items for sale on eBay, pop images of child star Leif Garrett, and heavy metal bands. Shearer creates lists and archives as raw materials and sources for new compositions.

The first lesson is based on visual analysis, followed by a new language writing assignment, and concludes with a drawing assignment.

Objectives

Students will be introduced to the works of Daniel Guzmán and Steven Shearer.

Vocabulary

Archive is a collection of historical, documentary records made of primary sources consisting of papers, letters, and photographs compiled by an individual or an institution. An archive can be made up of various items categorized for the sake of preservation.
Collection is a set of unique objects categorized by content and material with the criteria that it is compiled for exhibition purposes.
Connoisseur (in old French means to know) is an expert who understands the details, technique, or principles of art and is competent to act as a critical judge.

Materials

Steven Shearer’s images in the Digital Archives
Daniel Guzmán’s images in the Digital Archives

Lesson Strategy

Read Walter Benjamin on book collecting (this applies to all forms of collecting). Excerpt from “Unpacking my Library”:
“What I am really concerned with is giving you some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection… Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories… For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?” [1]

Open discussion:

  • What does it mean to keep something?
  • What purpose could it function?
  • What’s the difference between random objects and objects that have been organized?
  • Is there anyone in class who has a collection? Or blog?
  • What do you collect and why?
  • What sources do you use (web, newspaper clippings, magazines, books)?

To create an order of a particular set of objects means that there is criteria, an objective goal to demonstrate expertise on a given subject. Objects become official forms of evidence or an individual’s version of current history.

Look at Steven Shearer’s Slumber, 2004. C-print. 72” x 125 5/8”.

  • What do you see?
  • What materials do you see the artist using?
  • What do you think is the organizing principle in the work?
  • What types of places are the figures in?
  • Choose one figure that stands out to you and describe their countenance.
  • What ideas do you see the artist trying to convey?

Look at List, 2004. Inkjet print. 60 5/8”” x 42 ¼”.

  • What does it look like from a distance?
  • What happens when you look closer?
  • This is a list of heavy metal bands. What themes do you see running through this list?
  • This work was hand typed by Steven Shearer and then re-photographed so that it moves in and out of your field of vision; it blurs even as you get close. There’s an element of hard work and time in this piece. Does Shearer’s process affect the reading of this work?
  • What are the criteria for the list?

Explain connoisseurship.

  • Is Shearer exhibiting a form of expertise on a particular topic?
  • Of which topic is he a connoisseur?

Look at the work Poems X, 2004. Charcoal on rag paper. 49” x 36”.

  • How do you think this artwork was produced? If you look closely, you’ll notice it’s made of charcoal. Steven Shearer created a stencil mask and rubbed charcoal on the background.
  • Again here we see the process of time-consuming work to produce this piece. Compare and contrast its appearance to its handmade quality.
  • What do you think is Shearer’s intention of choosing to narrow his collection to only heavy metal lyrics?
  • What associations do you have with the text in the work?
  • These are a list of heavy metal lyrics that Steven Shearer collected as possible titles for art works. Imagine and describe these possible artworks that might be produced under these titles, for example, “mutilated regurgitator.”

Discussion:
Based on our introduction to Steven Shearer’s process and his use of the collection, compilation based on criteria, the collection becomes a finished piece with each chosen item as an element of composition.

Look at Hijo de tu Puta Madre, 2001. Drawings, collages, and collected material. Dimensions variable.

  • What do you see?
  • What types of objects do you recognize in the work?
  • Based on our discussion, is this a collection or an archive?
  • What is the criteria for this compilation of objects?

Look at Solo lo falso Permanence, 2001. Pirated tapes, vinyl, and cardboard sign. 35 3/8” x 47 1/4”. La Coleccion Jumex, Mexico.

  • What do you see?
  • Do you recognize any bands in this piece?
  • This is Daniel Guzmán’s entire music collection, including ticket stubs of concerts he’s attended inside the cassettes. What’s in your music collection?
  • The card translates to “only the fake survives.” What do you think he means by this?
  • What do you see as the major difference in what is collected in Hijo de tu Puta Madre and Solo lo falso Permanence?

Homework

Observe your room closely. Look at the items in it: furniture, posters and pictures hung on your walls, objects, and still lifes of items collected on dressers. Choose items you feel are representative of yourself and the culture you identify with. Create a list or a drawing of 10-15 items. Encourage students to look outside their room, into the streets and around their neighborhood and note things of interest. Students may include on their list a variety of items: objects, images, and text, as well as draw from a variety of sources: songs, books, television, and the web.

Assessment

Verbal Literacy: Evaluate student participation in the discussions.

Extending the Lesson

Drawing Activity:
Students will use found images and text from magazines and create compositions of one chosen phrase from Shearer’s piece, Poems X.

Additional Resources

1. Benjamin, Walter “Unpacking my Library” in Illuminations, Schocken Books: New York. 1968.

Lesson Plan: Double Album: The Collection and the Archive