darryl lauster

     I am an artist for whom American history is a central influence and conceptual core.  In broad terms my work investigates and appropriates the American historical record and aspects of our national identity as frequently defined and documented by media , folklore, foundational narratives and more recently, through individual biographies.   I am deeply interested in commemoration and memory, particularly in the way the historic record is often altered by each.  Specifically, I seek to explore storytelling , a particular accounting of commemoration and memory, as a human narrative intended to convey traditions and customs through the interpretation of real events; for when one quotes history, one must tell stories.  

     By appropriating aspects of microhistoric a l methodology, targeting both the arcane and the iconic, my goal is the creation of work that communicates the role stories have played in the American chronicle.  I am driven by the scholar Arthur Danto's claim that "to ask for the significance of an eve nt, in the historical sense of the term, is to ask a question which can only be answered in the context of a story". 1   Included in my dissection of the word story are all its various euphemisms--myth, tale, anecdote, yarn, legend--all of these monikers flow  together to create reality, whether verifiable or not.  Truth and accuracy are not always synonymous. 2

     Because history, or at least, certain components of an exhaustive history, are malleable, one must conclude that all history is part theory, or, in feistier terms  “ prophecy. ” 3   My work hinges on the increasing, however reluctant, acceptance that history is subjective.  It is difficult to measure the integrity of the foundation on which we stand.  As such, my approach to the past ranges from reverence to  agitation, depending on the subject matter I choose to advance.

     I operate through varied presentation formats.  I am an Intermedia artist.  This term is one that is increasingly relevant to a number of contemporary artists whose practice is diverse and  not tied to a singular medium, but rather who use a variety of strategies and methods to best and most strategically communicate a particular idea.  Practically speaking, my work takes a number of forms--from performance, to film, installation, web-based  media and sculpture--and each of these presentation methods is utilized to frame the best possible context for the meaning behind my work.

     Writing is also an important component of my practice, as it both reflects back to the nature of storytelling in general but also reminds one of the intimate correlation between writing and history itself Many of my projects isolate my own voice and image as the target from which to expand into personal questions of identity, family and community, as well as public con ceptions of heroism, activism and patriotism.  I am making myself vulnerable to both the viewer ' s eye and to his/her convictions regarding issues that I narrate from a first- person viewpoint.  In part, this more confrontational approach is a response to my  perceived lack of critical inquiry in American public discourse, which increasingly seeks to replace belief with fact.  Particularly in the contemporary era, history seems increasingly defined through ideological parameters.   In so much as my work posit s  a return to questioning in the Socratic sense, it is meant to interrogate what ancient Greeks called nomos, or customs, so that our humanity becomes reinforced through the process of self, or collective, critique.  And in order to conduct such an inquisi tion sincerely, I realized I must ultimately include myself in the work, for I am part of that equation.            

     Like most of history, I too have many contradictions.  Recently, and perhaps in opposition to my better instinct, I am increasingly fascinated with c reating work that is shrill.  In so doing I am contributing to the noise that defines the every day, adding volume to the undirected rage that assaults our ears and eyes on a daily basis .  A full-throated scream could be the most honest and appropriate response to modern life, and I find something powerful about this potential, even if it is counterproductive. With each passing year,  I feel increasingly that I am the answer to no great question of value.   But neither do I lie outside the inquiry.  My investigations  have taught me that we have always been a people who either choose to care or not.  Thus, in here in the present, I remain both in love with and heartbroken by my country.  That is perhaps the best takeaway here.

      1. Arthur Danto,  Narration and Knowledge , Columbia University Press NY, 1985.

      2.  M.I. Finley,  Ancient History , Viking Penguin Inc., NY, 1986.

      3.  Arthur Danto,  Narration and Knowledge , Columbia University Press NY, 1985.