Memory is a fickle thing. At the beginning of the semester, we established two points. One: history challenges the past. Two: memory reaffirms the past. At Tyler School of Art, I saw a mix of the two which, I think, lends itself to Michael Frisch’s ideas of shared authority. Frisch defines shared authority as “something that ‘is’–that in the nature of oral and public history, we are not the sole interpreters. Rather, the interpretative and meaning-making process is in fact shared by definition–it is inherent in the dialogic nature of an interview, and in how audiences receive and respond to exhibitions and public history interchanges in general” (127). Art installations at Tyler have a dialogue and it’s intense.
The two exhibits shown here allow for a dialogue to be had between viewer and artist. They play on the idea of memory. Reaffirming the past for myself and transporting me back to nostalgic childhood. However, these pieces also challenge history. The overtly feminized bicycle and accessories speak to gender roles of the past. The piece is so in-your-face about the perceived traditional ‘girly’ toys that it is hard to not question it, or think, “I wanted a pink bike with streamers,
or perhaps, “I would’ve hated this bike as a kid.” This piece is making a claim on feminism, on gender roles, and on history.
Kathleen McLean discusses the power of art in her article Whose Questions, Whose Conversations?” In the article she discusses the success of the “conversational nature” (74) of an art exhibit curator by local teens. The same conversational nature is seen at Tyler right now. A simple shelf of Beanie Babies seems innocuous enough, but look closer and one can see commentary on past materialism or dying of a former superstar. Maybe, the idea of consumerism comes to mind. Perhaps, the 1950s boom in buying or 1990s ‘yuppie’ culture. Or, maybe like me, it conjures ideas of childhood, of your own personal history. The viewer applies their version of the past to the piece and passes it on to those around them. For me, the beanie babies evoked memories of time spent with family, but the historian of me questioned the decay of a former idol. A new version of the past is forged through dialogue about the memory evoking pieces which challenge the existing narratives. By allowing a conversation to happen between artist and viewer, Tyler is inadvertently ‘doing’ public history.