Art and the Document is a Sydney College of the Arts research cluster actively exploring the dynamic relationship between documentary and aesthetic practices across the spectrum of contemporary art forms. The research also aims to serve as a catalyst in the production of knowledge that emerges from new kinds of dialogue between art and documentary practices.

The veracity and validity of traditionally accepted documentary forms (analogue photography, film and video) have been subject to sustained critique by artists and critics since the late 1960s. In the following decades, as their authority appeared to wane, documentary-based photography, film and video appeared with increasing frequency and prominence across the sphere of contemporary art practice. The need to verify, understand and evaluate knowledge, situated within the visual and visceral everyday and aesthetic realities of experience remains increasingly urgent. This compelling drive has been either accelerated or exacerbated by the escalating role of digital technologies in the hyper-proliferation, production and dissemination of increasingly sophisticated, manipulated, and re-contextualized images and forms. This more recent and unprecedented internet-based proliferation of photo-based images and data has raised pressing new questions for both ‘art’ and ‘the document’.

While the old theoretical and creative parameters and debates can feel exhausted, the intellectual frameworks and evolving practices most applicable to and productive for our present situation are not yet clear. They include participatory, fictive, subjective, performative, allegorical, interdisciplinary documentary approaches; fresh forms continue to be invented. Exploring and mapping this fertile domain of contemporary art practice is the focus of our group’s research.