research design laboratory

Defining the Archive through Experience

I wanted to take a moment after attending an incredible talk by Reece Auguiste to reflect on how theories of the archive are essential to media production, including for the kind of media strategy that leads up to production (as we do at Archinodes.)

During a special lunchtime lecture put on by the Brakhage Center for the Media Arts, Auguiste outlined numerous ways of thinking about the archive: an as object of critical inquiry; as the embodiment of historical events; as the formation of discourses; as epistemological foundation of the archive as repository for memory; and, as a negotiation between institutional power and agency. His particular vision of the archive is focused on an experience of (time through) the archive. Working from Bergson, Auguiste breaks the Western stronghold on the duality between perception and memory, feeling rather that each is embedded in the other, and making matter out of perception itself. 

In asking why we archive, I believe Auguiste is also asking a question about the politics of preservation, ownership (over the past) and (future) access. Why do we hang on to the past? Is it a matter of nostalgia? Is it informed by a fetishism of the archival object itself? Is it out of a fear of forgetting? Or is the archive a monument to memory in and of itself? Are there ethics to the archive? How can its materials be used, reused, re-contextualize, or remixed? Are there limits to its ethical communication? Or, is (and should) the archive be completely open for any possible reconfiguration of the past it stakes a claim to? We are complicit in making the archive unstable -- it is not inherently so -- human agency and interaction destabilize it. Performing the archive therefore brings in all of these issue as it pulls the person (and personal) back into the equation.


How and why should all of this inform production and research design? If we understand the archive as more than a mere repository, and consider its experiential dimensions, what new shapes emerge for the database?