ACTIVATING THE ARCHIVE was a series of talks from artists and archivists presenting contemporary uses of visual archives. It featured a variety of approaches to this subject which helped highlight potential avenues for my ongoing projects on informal accumulations.
The event presented a range of practices: some are building an archive (Arab Image Foundation), others are using existing archives as inspiration or material (Amak Mahmoodian’s NeghaB; Maja Daniels’ Elf Dalia), and a few somewhere in between (Vicki Bennett’s People Like Us).
Many are engaged with what may be considered as peripheral, such as: discarded images found in flea markets (Kensuke Koike’s Today’s Curiosity) or recycling plants (Thomas Sauvin’s Beijing Silvermine); hidden private lives from family albums (Arab Image Foundation); and historic photos lost in the vastness of the internet (Francesca Seravalle’s Everything Has Its First Time).
The formal definition of archive, in this instance, comes into question. Traditional interpretation derives from its Greek etymology as ‘public records’ from a ‘government’ (Oxford Dictionary, Nov 2018), functioning as historical records of a time, place, institution or people curated by a governing entity such as local authorities, universities or museums.
Yet this symposium has demonstrated that the notion of archives has expanded and is still evolving into something more democratised and multiplicious. That it no longer adheres to a singular, homogeneous narrative, format or source, due in part to the ongoing liberation of diverse communities, the pluralisation of histories, and the rise of accessible technologies, all of which have enabled more people to share, record and preserve their own stories.
The ways in which these projects have reconsidered the idea of an archive have the potential to stimulate developments in my own attempts to explore this area through works-in-progress like Archive Abstract.