SCULPTING THE ARCHIVE
Modern theorists have long challenged the archive as an objective and impartial system to generate absolute knowledge. As pointed out by Hal Foster in his seminal essay "An Archival Impulse," artists since the 1970s have attempted to recuperate archives as a volatile process imbued with multi-layered temporalities, subjectivities, and enactments. Artists have acted as curators to have taken active steps to expand the archive beyond its instrumental function as a repository of documents and turn it into a dynamic and generative tool for alternative knowledge, at the same time to embody its materials in art works. We experiment in order to give life to historical material collected from institutional [and personal] networks, through individual artistic and curatorial mediation. How we are to mediate is a good question, which begins a process of transformation in thinking as to what ‘mediation’ means in a critical interference that constitutes subjectivity.
How is the archive redefined through contemporary art and exhibitions that have recently turned to the archival as a mode of presentation and interference in the museum, and its own collections? How could the archiving of older forms of technology –the birth of electronics and earlier models (drawing, writing) - as a deep history and therefore also generating its own memory, still intact in evidences (old photographs, 8 mm and 16 mm film, early television broadcast), evocative, in the original textures of VHS, yet which starts to manifest different, new meanings in various cultural configurations as if overlooked. Is it possible to recuperate the spatiality and the materiality of the video as an archive in the Internet age? What happens in the process of transfer, and of the migration of ideas, from ‘dated’ or redundant, to the present day and new formats? Does the video archive allow for the opening of an imaginative and fictive space, in conjuring the future from the residual imagery, when science fiction itself is ‘old-fashioned’? Are new values erasing older ones? How do we render documentation with affective value and as ‘art or ‘cinema’ or ‘television’ or as ‘installation’? How to connect historical or history-inspired iconology, to contemporary art and evoke critical responses to the present, which may alter perception of time and value in the ‘now’ to the appearances of the ‘not-now’? What are the possible ways to relate subjectivities to the multiplying of these residues of old video as it transmits information? Changing the historical and temporal perspective, past is future, future never happened, yet the present remains in time's residues.
This introduction is intended to expand the curatorial possibilities held in video collections. This collection – the VHS library collected over many years, especially focused in collecting 1990s television broadcasts, documentaries and popular and ‘art’ films – belonged to the university as a resource for educational purposes to back up studies in television / film / drama / cultural and social studies and the politics of representation. The educational aspect is still held to be part of the curatorial remit, that there is a virtue in organizing and archiving art and moving image for future generations. How the material can be restructured as both a living form, i.e. the imagery can remake 'works' in new sequences or assemblage, in the cut and pace of the moving image, from the period in which these already edited moving images, which originated at another time, are yet to yield the material to its reformulation and analysis, shows itself to be not static or purposed to utilitarian/ academic use. It is therefore not just a cultural product of an era, but a resource material that can be understood in all kinds of new digital translations, or into art forms installed as objects or in unusual interpretations. This is a form of curating that seeks to intervene in the material itself rather than archive it. The archive then becomes an activated rather than inactive, dormant one, as 'installation'. This is an 'epigenetic' formation. Epigenesis, in that new condition affects the genus form and the behavior, sculpting the brain itself.
From this perspective the material is both ‘dated’ and 'reanimated', from its overlooked and dormant potential. Values of circulation and speed replace ideas of 'quality'. Moving image theory has set the question of identifying a signifying system, very different to how analysis works for photography as a system of signs that can generate meaning, since, at base photographic images are still images. If composition and camera movement are continuously altering the point of view, the structure itself is made from vertiginous moments and transience, and presents problems in making objective meaning. Any systematic understanding of how the brain ‘oversees’ the audiovisual material seeks to intuitively break it down into narratives, or durational sequences that reflect the orientation between time and movement that one is already familiar with. Orientation and disorientation, familiar and unfamiliar, are played out in narrative fiction to surprise, to plot, to shock, to excite our desire, our fears et cetera.
What happens when the image and the sound are ‘cut-up’ continously and put into a new set of relations? What occurs when the narrative is collapsed in this transitive process of cutting and re-cutting and recomposing, as in the modernist ethos of ‘collage’ or ‘montage’ or ‘assemblage’ translated at the surface, in sound, or voice ‘sampling’ or digital ‘mash-up’ that technology permits so easily? High-end production is freely available, allowing all to create and simulate effects of cinema. What are the ‘effects’ on how we think, and more so, how we believe, despite evidence, or in the calculated associations of a subliminal relation, and an emotive, deep, one? Is ‘cinema’ just a shining myth, fading into images no longer worthy of attention, or since dead, beyond comprehension? What of the erasure or censorship, or re-framing of evidence as propaganda? And so on...
Politics recruits through consensus belief and through disavowals that cement power, principally through image technology and naming. Film and video, and television produce these effects to be read as causes, or ‘truths’. The internet disembodies spectatorship and makes human engagement corporate, and consensual.
If we examine examples from both mainstream and alternative modes of film and video and its critical capabilities to document, provide historiographical accounts and material witness to events forgotten, and test its own representations in time and place from viewpoints unfamiliar. At a more aesthetic and philosophical level to test the cognition of time and space against the subject, the viewer, against how we experience ‘life’ phenomena, and how the moving image becomes a memorializing function as part of experience in life. Part of our memories and our imaginaries of the future, often appear in these flickering images as ghosts from futures and pasts that never happened. Here is the power of fiction as a base for reality, and as a mystification or disavowal, that politics rests upon. Film has struggled within this matrix between fact and fiction and the desire to see, as much as inability or resistance to really see the truth.
Here we can make a start, looking at the video landscape as ‘epigenetic’…how environments change conditions, to remake the past to conceive of a future anterior that is already suggested, once having come into view.