The Archive

I have been reading through one of the books in the Whitechapel documents of contemporary art, ‘The Archive’. Two essays, in particular, were helpful to read in relation to the sort of ideas around my use found footage and archived materials.

Hal Foster: The Archival Impulse

The essay considers the growing use of archives in contemporary art, locating this within a history of art seeking to elaborate and extend the archived ‘readymade’ in renewed contexts.

The essay has helped me to reflect upon perhaps the reasons why the archive is turned to when creating art. The archive allows for new connections to be made between narratives and information that would not naturally find themselves in the same context. ‘Connecting what cannot be connected’ in a process that Foster considers comparative to paranoia, a process of forced connections that demonstrate an attempt to work through a contemporary condition of fragmentation in order forge new narratives.

Considering the way that I use the archive, the ‘mega archive’ of the internet, almost as a way of highlighting the fragmentation that occurs within a digital society. Much of my work is a ‘plain’ presentation of the found materials I have gathered through a process and pattern of collection and presentation. This is quite different to the way a lot of contemporary artists use the archive, using it as a source for material that is then drawn together as part of a much more creative exploration into a narrative, this is encouraging me to really consider the way in which I present found footage.

Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, From Enthusiasm to Creative Commons: Interview wth Anthony Spira

In this interview, the artist duo discuss issues surrounding the use of third party material in art. Something that is very much at the centre of my own thoughts surrounding my practice. Highlighting the multiplicity of authors and previous owners within an archive, Cummings and Lewandowska identify a key difference between ‘the archive’ and ‘the collection’. Notably, a collection follows a certain narrative, however, an archive is described in this interview as a ‘territory’ not a specific narrative. Cummings and Lewandowska comment “therefore the meanings of the things contained (in an archive) are up for grabs, it’s discursive terrain. There’s a creative potential for things to be brought up to the level of speech, as they are not already authored as someone’s narrative or property.” 

A statement found on their website reads “we recognize that it’s no longer helpful to pretend that artist’s originate the products they make, or more importantly, have control over the values and meanings attributed to their practice: interpretation has superseded intention.

Their approach to work highlights the honesty perhaps of using found materials, they are not making an attempt to absorb found materials and regurgitate them as original, but instead present the found footage as itself, but within a newly constructed narrative – a narrative that can not be denied by the openness of the nature of the archive. The contemporary artist is likened by Cummings and Lewandowska to that of a DJ, a curator or hacker. No attempt at creating a new object is made, but rather old objects are recaptured and released into new potential. They acknowledge that the use of found materials can be difficult to balance, as it can easily fall back into the realms of ‘the everyday’ from which the footage originates, but through careful curation and intervention, there is a potential to draw out a new life from the explicit appropriation of the archive.

 

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