Archives in motion -
|"This is a self-reflexive archival praxis that takes the record-making and generative aspects of archiving as its subject, and makes the past once again useful and open to the present."|
Bismarck's examples connect to yet other models of artists investigating issues of documentation/archiving in the 'Interarchive' publication. Gilbert and George, for instance and as an example of artists extremely conscious of archiving as a context for practice, solve the problem by constantly working on their private archive, which contains all the preparations, sources, residues, documents and traces of their works. As an opposite example English artist, John Latham, presents the most non-archival artistic practice, preferring to recycle and recontextualize documents of past instead of classifying and arranging them. As he explains in his interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, in 1967 with his friend Barry Flanagan and his students he Latham 'ate' Greenberg's book on 'Art and Culture' as a collective action and then returned the masticated book to the library of St. Martin's School of Art where Latham was a lecturer. Although the book could not be used any more as historical narrative, but was reborn as a work of contemporary art. As a result Latham was fired from the School, but his work is now in the Museum of Modern Art. Barbara Steveni worked with Latham for years in the Artists' Placement Group (APG) whose interventions were based on the idea that "non-art contexts of industry and government were a more effective and 'creative' place than the Studio or a Gallery, and the subsequent creation of a structure with the aim of repositioning the artist in the decision-making processes of society." Steveni has just recently showed another alternative way of archiving as the part of another archive project organized by the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton University. In her performance Steveni presented herself as a 'living archive'. While both of them use the archival material as the part of their ongoing art practice, it is interesting that at the end the activities of their artist group (APG) will be archived in a traditional way after their collection has been bought and is being processed in the Tate Modern Archives.
Elsewhere in 'Interarchive' , Andrea Fraser presents another way of considering archives in artistic practice. Fraser contributed to the publication via e-mail and demonstrates how her view works deliberately against the traditional methods of arranging materials. She thinks Archives' meanings rely upon both fetishization and rationalization of documents, which are both bureaucratic processes. Consequently, in her projects she builds up or rearranges Archives in a form where the possession of information and knowledge depends upon dissolving order to chaos and selection based on chance. In her work "Information room" (1998 - Kunsthalle, Bern) Fraser arranged archival material of the Kunsthalle in unlabeled boxes and books with their spines to the wall as an installation in the Gallery space. Therefore the visitors of the gallery could use the 'archive' by opening the boxes and looking through the materials but had no advance information about what they would see in the boxes. Information has been gathered by chance instead of selection. All these examples of artists' archives and alternative ways of using archival material resist the contemporary art archives as institutions, criticizing manipulative selection criteria of archivists' or 'outsiders' subjectivity. However, it remains doubtful if these alternative artist-driven archival processes can solve the problem of documentation of contemporary art instead of institutions.
On what basis can we obtain information if we completely exclude selection? For Fraser this basis is chance, but materials and documents which are being collected and arranged by accident or by a very unusual way can easily lead to the loss of all the information or the disappearance of certain works, or to the creation of those private archives which contents are only known by their creators. Who and on what basis will be able to tell what will be the past in the future? What is art if the fact that the existence and quality of artworks depends on their appearance in museums is no longer a criteria of definition? What can or should be preserved? What, how to document an artwork if it no longer exists as an object? Ultimately, even, are these questions are relevant any more? Wolfgang Ernst also problematizes selection and subjectivity in the context of virtual archives, in particular, and raises further questions concerning memory and its preservation. Cultural memory will always be connected to techniques of preservation because only preserved memories can be accessed as information. Is Internet a solution for archival problems or is it only a new platform for raising new questions in relation to art and documentation? Does the process of digitization create an archive? Is the Internet an Archive or does it presents the already existing differences between Archives and collections in a virtual form? Is it possible to differentiate archives and collections in virtual space in the same way as we did in a real space considering the fact that in virtual space the using of the word 'archive' as a universal metaphor empties the traditional meaning of archive?
Though in the future different preservation techniques will exist side by side, according to Ernst, the notion of archive still needs some kind of definition so as not to lose its' content. While the virtual space operates similarly to the real archives in its technique, the virtual world is more an entropic site: instead of traditional archival order it ensures the greatest disorder for getting and giving information. The other difference is whilst a traditional archive is fundamentally connected to the human memory; cyber-space has no memory at all. Internet is a perfect example for a collection based on chance. Nevertheless, is there any possibility in the virtual space for creating a similar knowledge based virtual form of a real archive but which could also solve the problem of its subjective selectivity? How virtual archives could change the traditional concept of archives as foundations for creating one narrative history to become the platform of 'discursive aesthetics'? According to Ernst there is only one solution in the virtual space, which while gives some kind of help in choosing directions also gives freedom of decision in choosing information and building up different but equally relevant individual histories: hypertext and hypermedia.
While one part of the publication deals with the issues of the archive as real and virtual space and as well as the repercussions for its institutional basis, other passages raise more specifically philosophical or sociological questions in relation to the topic. Bart De Baere researched means by which to change the social function of these depositories of the past ('archives mortes') in the world of communication, commercialism and interactivity, to ensure archives retain usefulness in our present day world? For Baere, the solution lies in changing the archive's object-based function to focus more on community forming activities, depending more on contemporary issues and questions of present society then the documents of the past. Using the notion of 'cultural competence,' "the individuals' capacity for information and the degree to which one is capable, by reason of environment, education and experience, to deal with complex cultural stimuli," de Baere focuses on the role of archives as tools for forming communities. With this function, archives could help alienated individuals of globalized society to take part again in public discourses through cultural questions, which is a territory that exists between globalized economy and synthesized politics. Although De Baere's theory rejuvenates archives in social context, it could only operate if both Archives and questions of culture could strengthen their status in social and political consciousness.
Although the publication does not intend to ask all the possible questions about contemporary art and archives, some very important question is important to mention here, which might sound very simple but cause everyday problems for those archivists who work in archives. These include considerations of the fate of pre-existing archives that keep those thousands of documents, providing the basis of the virtual archives and the future survival of these documents. Should we store them 'underground', in safe places for those decades it takes to process them to be available in virtual form? Or shall we sell them to bigger institutions that at least are able to exhibit them but in a selected way and where they are also closed for public during the years of archival process (such as in the case of APG)?29 How can we avoid losing these archives? Some transform themselves into another form, like to start again as a publishing house or a virtual archive (such as the case of Franklin Furnace Archive)30. What is the best solution and for whom? Is it necessary to keep these archives containing original and unique documents in the same form or do we have to think of new solutions in relation to improving research and understanding of contemporary art in particular? How we can document increasingly complex and often ephemeral art practices 'objectively' enough to provide a reliable sense of these practices and works in the future? Is it useful to preserve these works in the form of photos or video recordings or should we talk about their contents in relation to broader socio-political context to understand them?
With these questions in mind we arrived at the third part of the publication, entitled 'Interlinking', which introduces the structure of sixty-two different models of existing 'archives' through questioning of 'archivists' by the project team. Real or virtual, public or private, open or closed, object or media-based, different collections or foundations and results of research or practical projects are all taken under the umbrella term of archive, thus presenting various models of practice. Among the participants, questioned as 'archivists', are curators, artists, professional collectors and hobbyist collectors. From their answers we know that there are some who did not even want to create an Archive, but only kept the documents about their own work (Robert Fleck), others as a publisher created their own databases, which are called archives only because the process of digitization (S. O. S. International Archive).
Some Archives provide documentation of a temporary project organized in certain times (documenta Archiv), while some are institutions that organizes events and archives the documents of their own activities (<rotor>). Some artists (Archiv Lisl Ponger) build up their private Archive based upon their own research and interest, or arrange documents archive to create a publication about his/her works (Erik Steinbrecher). In this sense, the Archive is a working tool for private usage. There are some Archives which exist in real form but operate more like a documentation or information center (Electronic Flux Corporation), or as a platform of communication created specially for digital form (Rhizome.org). A unique form of archive is the Mediatheque Terre-de-ciel, which does not collect or select, but compiles documents based upon their date of submission by members of the public who wish to share whatever particular importance or interest they perceive in them. This archive also lends archival documents in contrast to traditional archival rules. There are also archives, like The Netherlands Media Art Institute and the argos-arts, which specialize their archival activity to only one media (video and audiovisual documents). At the end, there are some private collections of different people who collect different objects as a hobby (Bengt Forslund's Archive of devils or the Batman-collection of Lars Berglund). These and other Archives are also represented diagrammatically as a network in 'Interarchive', but their relationship to each other are not discussed in the book, instead their methods and the contents of their collections are described individually, without detailed research.31 These descriptions are very important to have some kind of knowledge about the existing archives, the reader get basic information that can be developed individually by using the addresses of them given at the end of the publication. 32
Then there are those Eastern European archives, which are still not recognized as cultural heritage, which risk becoming part of closed private collections after the owner dies, or simply disappear because of new technical developments. These archives are also weakly represented in this publication. In Eastern Europe where neo-avantgarde was forced underground, Archives had an additional function: these were the only places which preserved information and documentation about new and progressive art forms which were different from the ruling social realist art. One of the still existing Eastern European avant-garde Archives is Artpool (Budapest, Hungary), which, apart from the Romanian subReal, is the only participant in 'Interarchive' from Eastern Europe. Artpool Archives started its activities as an artist initiative in 1979. Surviving the years of state socialism in 1992 Artpool became an artist-run Art Research Center including the huge Archive of the underground Hungarian avant-garde art of the 70s and 80s and of of progressive international art from the early 70s until the present. This Archive is also an ongoing art project where documents are generated by targeted collecting as well as responses to calls for projects and exhibitions. Having been processed in the Archive all such material provides the foundation of future projects along and connected with other documents from the past to raise new questions in art. As an Art Research Center its aim is not only archiving, but also exhibiting, disseminating and researching contemporary art practices. Apart from the research of art Artpool also started an ongoing research on the institutions of art to explore these issues to the wider audience. Although Artpool is well respected internationally, the research about the future of contemporary art and its archives is elementary as in Hungarian context there is no discourse on that topic. To achieve this wider interest international projects on the question of archiving and archives are particularly important.
The more than 600-page publication is in the end result of a long research project, but at the same time as a handbook acting as a starting point of other archival projects in the future. It could also be said that the project supports the view that 'everything is Archive, which results in questioning the existence of the notion in the future. As Bertolt Brecht wrote of the 'work of art', so we could also say of Archive:
"If the concept of 'work of art' can no longer be applied to the thing that emerges once the work is transformed into a commodity, we have to eliminate this concept with cautious care but without fear, lest we liquidate the function of the very thing as well. For it has to go through this phase without mental reservation, and not as noncommittal deviation from the straight path; rather, what happens here with the work of art will change it fundamentally and erase its past to such an extent that should the old concept be taken up again - and it will, why not? - it will no longer stir any memory of the thing it once designated."33
Budapest - Dartington
October 2004 - April 2005
Interarchive. Archivarische Praktiken und Handlungsräume im zeitgenössischen Kunstfeld / Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field.
Beatrice von Bismarck, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Hans-Ulrich Obrist,
Diethelm Stoller, Ulf Wuggenig, artistic concept:
Hans-Peter Feldmann, curator: Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Lüneburg-Köln, 2002, 640 pages, 545 images (402 in color), german-english, 19,7 x 26,5 cm, ISBN 3-88375-540-0 <>
Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg: Publications
1 The text is in main a review of the publication of Interarchive. Archivarische Praktiken und Handlungsräume im zeitgenössischen Kunstfeld / Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Lüneburg - Köln. Reviewing the 'Interarchive' project/publication is as one result of an ongoing research on contemporary art archives developed at Artpool Art Research Center, Budapest. An earlier Hungarian language version of this text has appeared in Balkon 2004/7 (Július). The occasion of this English translation has allowed for a revised version of the text overall. <>
2 Derrida, Jacques: Archive Fever: A Freudian impression, Univerisity of Chicago Press, 1996. <>
3 For example the AICA (International Association of Art Critics) conference entitled "The Memory of Contemporary Art: What and How?" in 1996, and another conference co-organized by AICA and Archives de la Critique d'Art (Rennes) in 2001 entitled "Contemporary Artists and Archives: on the meaning of time and memory in the digital age." This conference was the part of a bigger archival project initiated by the Austrian organization Basis Wien in 1999. "VEKTOR - European Contemporary Art Archives" was a three-year long international project supported by the European Commission originally to develop an international database for contemporary art with standard rules among the participating institutions. Apart from this they organized conferences, symposia (e.g. "The Archive in Art Practice", John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton, June 2002) and exhibition around the question of archives and inviting artists to develop projects (Publication entitled "Potential: ongoing archive," edited by Anna Harding, 2002, which accompanied the exhibition in The John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton, 25 June - 24 August 2002 and TENT. Rotterdam 6 September - 6 October 2002). More about the project VEKTOR is: http:// www.vektor.at 2002. <>
4 Derrida, Jacques, Ibid. The book is the published version of Derrida's lecture given on 5 June 1994 in London as the part of the conference "Memory: The Question of Archives." The original title of the lecture was "The concept of the Archive: A Freudian Impression." <>
5 Derrida, Jacques, Ibid, p. 29. <>
6 Ibid, p. 1. <>
7 Ibid, p.2. <>
8 Ibid, p. 8. <>
9 Ibid, p.64. <>
10 Interarchive. Archivarische Praktiken und Handlungsräume im zeitgenössischen Kunstfeld / Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Lüneburg - Köln 2002. <>
11 Interarchive, Ibid, pp. 8-11. <>
12 The first part of the publication also contains the interviews of Hans Ulrich Obrist with artists of different approaches to the question of archives (Gilbert and George, John Latham and Barbara Steveni), as well as the e-mail interviews with Andrea Fraser and Maria Eichhorn. Interarchive, Ibid, pp. 48-59., 68-75., 85-88., 88-90. <>
13 Von Bismarck, Beatrice: Arena Archiv. Prozesse und Räume künstlerischer Selbstarchivierung / Arena Archiv. Artistic self-archiving: processes and spaces. Interarchive, Ibib, pp. 113 - 120. and 457 - 458. <>
14 Ibid, p. 113. (in English p. 456) <>
15 Ibid, pp. 115-116 (pp. 457 - 458). <>
16 Ibid, p. 117. (p.458). <>
17 Ibid, p. 459. (p.118). <>
18 Ibid <>
19 Ibid <>
20 About their archive see Hans Ulrich Obrist's interview with Gilbert and George, Interarchive, Ibid, pp.49-59. (in German pp. 426 - 432). <>
21 Obrist, Hans Ulrich: Interview with John Latham and Barbara Steveni, Interarchive, Ibid, p. 71. (in German p. 434.) <>
22 Drabble, Barnaby: There's no history like the present: Thoughts on the archive of Barbara Steveni's APG' in. Harding, Anna (ed.): Potential: ongoing archive (kat.), Artimo, 2002, p. 85. APG had other members like Jeffrey Shaw, Barry Flanagan and later Stuart Brisley, David Hall and Ian Macdonald Munro. Ibid. <>
23 About the exhibition in John Hansard Gallery (2002.06.25-08.24) see Harding, Anna (ed.): Potential: ongoing archive (kat.), Artimo, 2002. <>
24 Description of the project: Questions for Andrea Fraser, Interarchiv, Ibid, p. 86. (in German pp. 437 - 438.). <>
25 Ernst, Wolfgang: Archive im Übergang / Archive in Transition, Interarchiv, Ibid, pp. 137-147 (in English pp. 475 - 484.) <>
26 De Baere, Bart: Potentiality and Public Space. Archives as a metaphor and example for a political culture / Potentialiät und öffentlicher Raum. Archive als Metapher und Modell einen Politischen Kultur, in: Interarchive, Ibid, pp. 105-113 (in German pp. 447 - 455.) <>
27 The phrase was first used by Hans Blokland in his Wegen naar vrijheid, autonomie, emancipatie en cultuur in de westerse wereld, Amsterdam 1995, pp. 331-333. Cited in de Baere, Ibid, p.106., note 5, p.112. <>
28 See the example of the American Bettman Archives. Michal Kobialka describes how the archive, which contains millions of photographic images, had been bought and was transported to an underground, protected place by the company of Bill Gates, CORBIS in 1995. Although the documents will be preserved, it also means that nobody can see them. CORBIS promised that all the images would be digitized. This still means that the researchers have to wait at least 25 years to have access to all the materials. In: Kobialka, Michal: Historical archives, events and facts. History writing as fragmentary performance, in: Performance Research 7 (4), pp. 3-11 <>
29 More about APG in: Drabble, Barnaby, Ibid. The Jean Brown Archives was mentioned by Hungarian scholar Geza Perneczky as one of the example for those avantgarde archives which became the part of a bigger museum (Getty Museum, Los Angeles). It is interesting to note that although the Hungarian title use the work gyűjtemény (collection), in the English translation Perneczky used the title The Art Pool Archives. The Story of a Hungarian Art Collection, in: The New Hungarian Quarterly, 1989, pp.192-196. Therefore he did not make difference between collection and archive. <>
30 About Zona see Nannucci, Maurizio: Zona Archives, in: Interarchive, Ibid, pp. 388-390. About Franklin Furnace you can read more in Wilson, Martha - Michael Katchen: Franklin Furnace Archive, Interarchive, Ibid. pp. 296-301 <>
31 The diagram is in Interarchive, Ibid, pp. 227-228. It shows those archives the organisers originally asked for participation as well as those, which was advised by the participant archives, but not necessary became the part of the publication <>
32 The publication also includes a table containing practical information from the participant archivists answering the advanced questions of the editors about the structure and content of their Archives. Interarchive, Ibid. pp. 230 - 231. In the end of the publication the readers can also find the contact addresses and short biographies of the participants. Ibid, pp. 633-637. <>
33 Benjamin, Walter: The Work of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936, in.: Illuminations, Trans. Harry Zohn. Edited and with Introduction by Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. <>