Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy


Visual Arts


Merritt, David

2nd Supervisor

Mahon, Patrick

3rd Supervisor

Calcagno, Antonio


The aim of this thesis is to examine philosophical archeology and the feasibility of knowledge that derives from researching it simultaneously through theoretical and artistic practice.

Philosophical archeology essentially embodies one’s relation to history and historiographic research—a research methodology at the core of which lies a “historical a priori”, that which a priori conditions the historical development of a phenomenon. However, this research conceives of philosophical archeology more broadly, as a multifaceted term that traverses the discourse of the humanities at large.

By pursuing this doctoral research, my original contribution to knowledge is twofold: (1) I historicize philosophical archeology—a term that hasbeen in use throughout humanities-based research since 1793,when it was formulated for the first time in this manner; and (2) expanding on its history, I show how, in the broader context of contemporary art and particularly in my artistic practice, philosophical archeology is conceived and carried out as a modus operandi.

Section I outlines philosophical archeology in theoretical practice. Based on Giorgio Agamben’sœuvre(andthe work of other pertinent thinkers), it explicates Agamben’s conception of messianic timethat in turn conditions his conception of history. Messianic time is conceivedas the paradigm of historical time par excellence, mainly drawing onSaint Paul’s text Epistle to the Romans(and in reference to Agamben’s work on it, The Time that Remains) and WalterBenjamin’s text “Theses on the Philosophy of History.”The concept of messianic time is further elaborated by discussing (under the framework of aesthetics) Benjamin’s method of montage that likewise contributes to his theory of historical signature/consciousness.

Section II is an integral component of my thesis exhibition titled Philosophical Archeology Space 2009–2019—a space that is constituted as, and by, philosophical archeology in my ongoing artistic practice; this archeological/historiographic operation, in the framework of artistic research, resulted in the identification of three signaturescomprising the (material-based) “historical a priori” of my artistic practice. The section contextualizes archeological orientation in contemporary art, and examineswhether philosophical archeology (as artisticmodus operandi) is in a position to distend history and historiography rather than vice versa.

Summary for Lay Audience

This doctoral research revealed philosophical archeology to be multifaceted—it is a research methodology (a historiographic framework) in the humanities at large, which essentially embodies one’s relation to history and historiographic research; a metaphor (allegory); (art) content or subject matter as well asa material-based historiography or method of historical inquiry in art; a critical force that conceives of its (past) objects as (future) prototypes or blueprints; and, lastly, philosophical archeology embodies a certain(messianic)conception of time that conditions a conception of history.The originality of philosophical archeology, as a critical methodology, does not necessarily stem from the nature of its tools, but from the integration of threads drawn from various disciplines and broad fields of knowledge.

The first section explores philosophical archeology in theoretical practice. As a historiographic methodology in use throughout research across the humanities at large, philosophical archeology aims at researching the “historical a priori” dimension of a certain historical phenomenon, a dimension that cannot be identified as the phenomenon’s diachronic origin, but as an active tendency within it that conditions its development in time.

The second section explores philosophical archeology in artistic practice. In its first part, the historiographic turn in contemporary art, characterized by the metaphor of the archeological dig and the need to look backwards, is depicted as contributing to artists’ historical consciousness and in particular with regard to the societal knowledge economy. The second part unfolds from my artistic work, where I ask: What is an origin? I inquired into the concept of the origin as such, but also into my personal origin: what gave birth to, and still commands, my personal identity and meaning asself; what conditions my artistic engagement in the world, and how? In this inquiry, I practiced philosophical archeology—a research methodology that is nowadays associated mostly with the theoretical work of Giorgio Agamben; however, in this research, I applied this methodology both theoretically and artistically as two different but complementary means of generating knowledge.