It’s OK to be forgotten

Since this is my last Post, I’ll take a moment to “process” a few things that I’ve been mulling over in my mind this semester:

The Archive as Infrastructure: Who is building these Infrastructures and for what purpose? I think of Google, Facebook and Amazon building these behemoths to collect, store, aggregate and disseminate data sets on people in order to make billions of dollars in advertising revenue. I think about the classic Archives built by often well-intentioned cis, white people that now have to be retro-fitted to include Others (or perhaps discarded for a better alternative?). And I think about what the Infrastructure does and does not keep out: people who don’t or shouldn’t have access; underserved populations; young children.

The Archive as a Data Set: What are the parameters of the Data Set, and how is it being collected? What conclusions should we or shouldn’t we draw from the Data? Should the Data be collected at all? What is missing from or not being included in the Data?

The Archive for the Intangible: What cannot be Archived properly, i.e. Music, Dance, Cultural Heritage, Context, Emotion?

The third category struck me during the first week of the course and it has been a theme throughout the readings and discussions. Overall, there is this deep tension between the Qualitative and the Quantitative: what is and is not in the Data. But what makes me even more uneasy than the general lack of public knowledge about the Data being collected on each and every person, is that even when informed they often don’t care. What is the Data on the cultural implications of not caring about Data?

I do believe we need to face the Archive head on in an effort to make it bend to the needs of its audience and contributors. But at what point can we admit that it’s OK for the Archive to be incomplete? When will it be OK to be forgotten?

Image: Monument for a Forgotten Future

Silence Between the Notes


Claude Debussy famously said, “Music is the silence between the notes.” In this same way, Wolfgang Ernst expresses a need for us to remember that in the digitization of the Archive, we will experience a lossiness of intention implied by the creating body.

Even in expressing through new media there is a “lossiness” of intention. In texts, or Twitter and Facebook posts, or even the “arcane” email  – often it is difficult TO READ INTENTION. there is a removal of latency tone body language (see what i did there)?

Just this weekend, John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, implored people to read through transcripts of No. 45’s speeches to see the lack of linear thought and coherent expression in his use of language.

I agree that tone, intention, the space between the notes, is difficult to express and difficult to digitize.

Angry Librarian

“The immense backlogs of physical film seem to defy efforts to process them. Could we bring nonprofessionals into the archives to work with materials, annotate, repair, conserve, prepare for copying and scanning?” – Rick Prelinger, “Workshops, Workflows & Wooden Trains,” Keynote at Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Pre-Conference, Oakland, CA, 2015

In an effort to house the full contents of The Archive at a quaint and genteel historical society, the powers that be have decided to expand the archival structure. Great! But, now what? There is no existing catalog; there is no increase in labor; and there is no foundation in place for The Archive to be accessed any more by a public audience in the larger structure than in its current home. So what can we do?

The notion of control over The Archive is prevalent in Prelinger’s presentation as is his theory that not only should outward viewing of the archive be given to the people, but so should the back-end structure. In the same way that Christine Mitchell describes being blocked from access to digitized media in Concordia’s archive because the machines used to digitize must be preserved and protected from overuse (Amodern, 2004), protecting the contents of The Archive from being misused by blocking access to the back-end structure is shortsighted and counterintuitive to the purpose of the archive. If it’s preserved and no one knows it’s there, then what’s the point of preservation?

A New World Order of Things

Libraries have always given me a sense of calm. As I enter, I’m met with hushed movements of patrons and the smell of printed paper. Whether I arrive with a clear intention of what I am taking home or not, I always take a stroll through the stacks, feeling the sense of moving through a maze of stilled information awaiting my curiosity.

Although it is difficult to impress upon generations of students the importance of searching for objects vis a vis the “the first order of order,” (Weinberger, 2007) perhaps the search for objects and relationships between them can be had by creating a digital stroll through an online world filled with first order objects. Instead of being met by a stringent set of indexing from a database interface that requires a specific word that will (fingers crossed) be tagged in the corresponding metadata, like Sir Martin’s explorations in the physical world the researcher could cull the digital landscape for hidden treasures: original letters; early photographs; clay tablets scene from 360* vantage point through VR.

Nina Vestburg is correct in analyzing the digital database and how it will be used. No longer will it be tied up behind hopeful clicks made like the roll of a die: moving forward we must ask of the database, as Vestburg has, “for whom it is intended: the same people, often specialists, who made use of the analogue archive, or a new and expanded audience, perhaps largely made up of amateurs?” (pp 481). I believe it is the latter. As a community we are continuously socialized to expect digital access to the information of the world through our Google and Wikipedia searches, so why not the contents of the library?


Over the weekend I saw Bladerunner 2049 in theaters and the film gave new parameters to the definition of the “archive” while at the same time maintaining existing aesthetic ideologies. Encased in an Egyptian temple-like monolith, offline digital assets were stored on acrylic “drives” and in precious glass orbs handled with white gloves.

Archival assets, both analog and digital, have unique attributes when taking into account the struggle to store them in perpetuity: analog paper assets can be affected by flooding, humidity and climate control; digital assets are affected by increasing needs for physical geographical location.

The Internet Wayback Machine is an attempt to archive pieces of the internet that have been deemed valuable, but what of the future of the archive? As resources become sparse, what will we deem as valuable of saving?

For over a century artists have created artifacts meant to re-frame existing knowledge and perception, and create social commentary for the future of civilization. From Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917, to Jan Hoek’s The “Real” Somali Pirates, 2017, artists have (sometimes literally) flipped reality on its head in order to engage the audience and invite them to look at things just a little differently.

The landscape for viewing these artifacts has also changed dramatically: where Duchamp’s work is in the pristine gallery, Hoek’s photographs are in a Brooklyn deli. In the same way that physical artifacts have moved from the Archive monolith into the public space, web-based digital interpretations of assets have become more and more prevalent. For the last four years, Rebecca Onion has been featuring her favorite “Digital Archives” on, and they range from Knitting Pattern Archives to the a timeline on the history of slang. Each year the interfaces for these online projects become more and more dynamic and engaging.

More important than the interface is the artifact itself. But how do we define the artifact? Typically the association one makes when thinking of the archival artifact, one thinks of a document, whether it contains information on births, deaths, landowning or laws. In Bernard Stiegler’s For a New Critique of Political Economy, the author defines the “document” as “tertiary retention” where Primary Retention is the present, Secondary Retention is memory of the past and Tertiary Retention is the documentation of the memory of the past. And I agree with David Joselit’s assessment that by storing a temporal occurrence, “It is consequently perfectly possible that by this definition documents may be fictional…” (“On Aggregators,” pp 8).

This is exemplified in Hoek’s photographs which recreate images of Kenyan men posing as Somali pirates. In 2010, at the height of Somali attacks, Western journalists sought to find retired pirates, as it was much safe to travel than traveling to Somalia where they may have fallen victim themselves, in order to gain insight into the surge. These Kenyan men saw an opportunity to be paid for their stories by pretending to be pirates.

Similarly, in an interview of Mariam Ghani, the artist states that, while conducting research for her work, “Sometimes this research leads me to construct a fiction or reconstruct a speculative history around documents or fragments, physical traces, or a sense of place” (Bindu Bhadana,Index of the Disappeared, 2016). Constructing truth or fiction through photography and film has been a long running debate among theorists since the mediums’ inception into the art world.

But some artists embrace the ethereal nature of the artifact more than others. In the 1963 interview of Nam June Paik by Gottfried Michael König, the Paik regaled musician John Cage:

“Why do all musicians and music publishers believe that everything must result in something of importance to the history of music? That’s crazy. I told Cage: Destroy your manuscripts and tapes when you die! He thought that was too dramatic. I think it’s a crime that Cage makes tapes at all.”

During his interview, Gottfried Michael König pursued the issue: “So your own works are only intended for the moment? They have no significance afterwards? Not even for you? […] Your work only exists as long as it is being performed?” Nam June Paik responded: “Yes, that is beautiful. When I die there’s nothing left. I am not producing a child” (quoted in König 1963: 32, 34).

So what is to become of the artifact? Should it be contained and preserved only to be found in the next millennia while digging through the mountainside? Or will it finally be returned to its rightful owner? Possession of an artifact not belonging to its country of origin can often be a double-edged sword: while the artifact might be better maintained, once the artifact can be returned, how will it get there? Remaining in the hands of the possessing society may also mean a false interpretation of an object, not unlike the scene in Disney’s The Little Mermaid and her seagull companion’s designation of a hair-combing “dinglehopper” to an obvious fork, the artifact may not be fully understood until returned to its rightful owner.

These questions may only be answered by future generations, who even now are re-framing their definitions of the artifact by recognizing it, as Joselit does, in having a “condition of plasticity or transitivity” (pp 8). Exercises conducted in the classroom ask students to think on the viewpoint of future populations and come up with their own artifacts in the same way that artists have for so long.

So whether fleeting and ethereal, analog or digital, vivid or crude, fact or fiction, the ideological landscape for the artifact and archive alike are ever-changing and their future has yet to be seen.


Library as Memory

A couple of things struck me from the readings this week, mostly from Alberto Manguel’s description of Aby Warburg’s library in The Library at Night. I had never heard of Warburg or his library before and I found the thought of his constant rearranging of books through the processing of ideas very fascinating. His memory seems to me to be prolific in its abilities: where we now use metadata and tagging to search for interconnected materials, Warburg’s system of notes and sheer brainpower was able to connect hundreds of items.

I did find the description of the Warburg Institute library to be somewhat ironic: while alive, Warburg constantly rearranged the contents of his library, but it now stands frozen in time.

This theme of memory as library and the immortalization of a single moment or thought really got me thinking about the present social and political climate. Manguel’s description of the “perseverance of memory” as “the mental phenomenon where something is perceived as true even after it has been proven false” (pp 197) has consistently appeared in Media although I wasn’t aware of its name.

I had stumbled upon something similar in a blog called in which the author, Matthew Inman, describes the Backfire Effect: a phenomenon that occurs when you give someone facts which may contradict a particular belief they have, causing them to hold onto it even more so than before you attempted to correct them.  

This idea of the fluidity of truth is also seen in Dali’s famous melting clocks in his 1931 “Persistence of Memory,” completed two years after Warburg’s passing, which art historian Dawn Adès described as “an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time, a Surrealist meditation on the collapse of our notions of a fixed cosmic order” (Dali, 1982).

It seems that even after nearly a century, we are still struggling with the same anxieties as Dali and Warburg.