The Silence of Words

“I think it’s a crime that Cage makes tapes at all,” says Nam June Paik as mentioned in Siegfried Zielinski’s AnArchaeology for AnArchives. I really stuck onto the humor and underlying meaning that this statement revealed regarding our tendency to preserve and urge for historical precedence. It reveals the true essence of art, a cataclysmic moment meant to be felt and understood in its present context and state. This is intrinsically tied to the work of Dieter Roth or “Rot”, whose work Insel (1968) is destined to diminish through natural decay, and forced to be felt in the moment. It makes me wonder in regards to performance and installation works, which function solely through the presence and interaction of the spectator, if their memory shouldn’t be preserved through documentation, but solely left to the trail of spectator experience and memory…Ann Hamilton, whose piece Mattering I found particularly inspiring, creates a physical and spacial layering of meaning, material, touch, and interaction. The part performance part installation piece questions the ties between the physical and the mechanical and the negative space these narratives get lost in. While I am captivated by the documentation, I wonder if this negates the ephemeral and performative intimacy that the physicality of the space offered.

As mentioned in Mattern’s Archival Aesthetics, Hamilton reveals her interest “in the hierarchies of our habits of perception”, where we have historically prioritized “the discursive structure of words” and textual information. But words are limiting, and somewhat inadequate at articulating or expressing human intuition and experience. It got me thinking about the impossibility of archiving religious experience or a “religion”, as it is purely created through individual experience. Historically, scriptures, texts and prophecies are perceived has being the primary tell all source of a “religion”, but the very human intuition that ignite those prophecies fall through the cracks, ultimately silenced by words. In Islam, the Quran and its scriptures are typically viewed as being the fundamental guiding source of Islam’s principles and truths. But the Quran did not originally exist in written nor textual form, but solely through a thread of memorized recitation, orally passed through individual practitioners. The Quran is thus stitched and printed through their voices, but are they heard? And how can an individual experience be archived-or even properly conveyed?

It was also an interesting experience to view Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue– with its endless layering of flattened meaning and context, through my laptop screen, yet another flattened plane of personalized layers of “knowledge”, tabs and applications. My own digital landscape became yet another tab lost in the narrative. It made me wonder if the physical space I embody, that which I share with my digital counterpart and the scattered physicality of my notebook, pen, and library book, are stripped of their physicality and dimensionality due to the ultimate reliance of the digital to process and formulate my once physical ideas.

Light as Information

As a child, my weekends consisted of sitting pretzel-style below the invasive presence of the wall sized-television set. Below our CRT television were rows of VHS tapes ranging from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Wizard of Oz to A Bug’s Life and Home Alone. As the years went by, those clunky boxes of nostalgia began to fade, along with the VCR player that enabled the tapes’ animation. We witnessed the arrival of a new neighbor on the shelf: the sleek and compact DVD. These optical storage discs, with their ability to refract color when spun in the light, held an aura of opulence in the eyes of a child who was entranced by technology, and with their new technological facades and abilities came new intellectual furnishings and systems that stored and activated their memory.

As Mattern states in her piece “Before BILLY: A Brief History of the Bookcase” “I grew up in a domestic world that seemed to hospitably reconfigure itself around our family’s evolving interests and enterprises.” (2) In the case of my childhood, I relate. I think this is a symptom of the modern world in which we all relate, where our past is caught in an ephemeral sandstorm where memory and time are buried with change and technology.

Our world’s yearning desire to replace the old with the new, the slow with the fast, impacts more than just our storage furnishings and discs, but manipulates the very natural core of our universe, where we have ejected for increased speed and capability. In the case of light, its radiation has been harnessed through the electromagnetic spectrum’s encompassing presence, from the atomical to the astronomical, as a catalyst to the ever-increasing speed in which information is being stored and disseminated. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, in “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory,” examines this increase of speed as being a double-edged sword, one that allows for increased information to be disseminated but with decreased assimilation. (1) It is like the inverse relationship of the wavelength and frequency of light, as the frequency increases, wavelength decreases, with the wavelength representing the assimilated material.

The laws of light don’t just metaphorically relate to the speed of information, but its very properties have been harnessed to disseminate information. Going back to my discussion of the rapid change of media storage formats at the new millennium, the introduction of the optical storage disc, Blu Ray, used a precise beam of light in order to harness and capture the information engrained in its surface, ultimately increasing information storage capability.

Following the creation of the DVD in 1995 by Phillips and Sony, Blu Ray was officially released in 2006. While both DVD and Blu Ray used optic lasers to read and write digitally encoded information onto the disc, the Blu Ray advanced information storage capabilities through dual-layer precision. Blu Ray’s ability to store an increased amount of data stems from the short wavelength of the blue laser that is used to read and write the disc. The wavelength of 405 nm gives the laser more precision compared to a DVD, which uses a red laser with a wavelength of 650 nm. In the early days of Blu Ray technology, each disc layer could only hold about 25 GB of information; the technology has since advanced to 100 GB per layer and can transfer data at a rate of 48 Mbps, as compared to the DVD’s 10 Mbps capability. (3)

According to Kintronics, Blu Ray is designed with the capabilities for (BD-ROM) pre-recorded content, (BD-R) recordable PC data storage, (BD-RW) rewritable PC data storage, and (BD-RW) rewritable HDTV recording. (3) Not only does Blu Ray allow for more storage capacity, but it allows for an increase in user interactivity, including internet accessibility, instant skipping and playlist creation. These features, while allowing for a more user friendly mobility, further Chun’s theory that increased information leads to decreased assimilation. (1)

The information on a Blu Ray is encoded in pits that run from the disc’s center to the edge of the optic surface. The blue-violet laser reads the bumps in-between the pits where the information is stored. When the light hits a bump of information, it is reflected back towards a photo electric cell that detects the information, interpreting it as binary data. (4) The amount of information capable of being stored is dependent upon the size of the pits. Smaller pits allow for larger amounts of information. As compared to a DVD surface that is formed with a larger wavelength of light, a Blu Ray surface has a much larger amount of smaller pits, allowing for more information to be disseminated across the surface.

When it comes to the physical design of the Blu Ray, it has advanced the problematics of the DVD by placing the encoded data on top of a plate of polycarbonate, as compared to the DVD which compacts the data between two plates of polycarbonate, allowing for a birefringence, splitting of the beam and thus risking the disc unreadable. (3) The Blu Ray’s furnishing has advanced disc media storage, past the realm of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang nostalgia and home video and into the ambiguous space of the locus. As Chun mentions, “A locus is a place easily grasped by memory, such as a house, an intercolumnar space, a corner, an arch, or the like.” (1) The Blu Ray thus becomes a locus, a hybrid space between time, space, and light, for high speed media storage and data recording — or is it memory, or memory making? And where does the Blu Ray position itself within the very same rows of once-new media storages that lined my childhood wonderment?

As Mattern mentions in “Before BILLY,” “What were, only a few days before, systematically coded wares in a miscellany of merchandise, are now individuated objects, appreciated for their distinctive functions or aesthetic values, classified and authorized, in part, through their place on the shelf.” (2) The Blu Ray will become yet another marker of our ephemerality, baring a once-advanced infrastructure, while slowly becoming shrouded in a familial dust of the former. And just as our storage furnishings and equipment morph with time and technology, so do the phenomena we exploit for change. The harnessed energy of light we have sourced to capture and reveal information has inversely pushed our desires to reach a point where information can travel at the speed of light. But have we become lost in the shadows of this unfathomable velocity, where our information has become too quick to capture?



1.Wendy Hui Kyong. “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory.”Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 1, 2008, pp. 148–171., doi:10.1086/595632.

2.Mattern, Shannon. “Before BILLY: A Brief History of the Bookcase.” Harvard Design Magazine, President and Fellows of Harvard College,

3.Mesnik, Bob. “How Blu-Ray Optical Discs Work.” Kintronics, Kintronics, Inc., 1 Mar. 2016,

4.YouTube, Into the Ordinary, 6 Sept. 2017,






Intrinsics of Value and Storage

As Mattern mentions, “What were, only a few days before, systematically coded wares in a miscellany of merchandise, are now individuated objects, appreciated for their distinctive functions or aesthetic values, classified and authorized, in part, through their place on the shelf.” These ideas of the thread of meaning in which is created through position and placement makes me question some of the decisions in which I have organized my own space. Our lives are constantly bombarded with objects, trinkets and materials, inspiring our minds and relinquishing our memories, but the positions they take in space are not random, but are intrinsically tied to their value and form of being. What hierarchies are created that were once invisible? I also wonder how this theory correlates to ways in which we assemble and store information from our computer desktops to our smart phone home screens? Do hierarchies of value exist, and do they matter in our means of locating, disseminating, and creating?

The intrinsic relationship between storage and subject of the xylotheque, illuminated in Laura Tarrish’s Hunter Gatherer, is a unique example of creating storage in dialogue with the very subject in which it houses. It makes me wonder how else we could engineer archival storage filing boxes to be in a direct dialogue with their specific content, thus making it easier to locate as well as reinforcing its archived interior. Suzanne Briet’s theory that a document could propel into forms of natural occurrence, when acting as evidence in support of a larger contextual fact, I began thinking about the ways ecological fieldwork could change in regards to this. If the landscape began to be described as a document, perceived as evidence of climate change, filled with documented signifiers, would it’s  handling change.

Mothballs and Memory

The potent scent of mothballs penetrates my mind into an overbearing disembodiment, leading me instantaneously back to my grandmother’s untouched mid-century home, and further back into infinite webs of connecting thought and memory. The power of memory to ignite knowledge is fueled within the library. It is a space in which memory spreads out in all directions, curiously absorbing and reflecting the physicality of time and space that lines the walls. The temporality of the library experience, discovery, touch, scent, holds this phenomenon of recollection. But can this fade in flat, digital fields of information? Like Walter Benjamin notes in his book, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, authenticity is lost through the technologically reproduced image. Through digitization, the true essence of a book and photograph is pixelated. Does this refract into our mind, blurring the line between memory and knowledge?

Archives: Clarity and Construction

The archive can be a site of profound knowledge production, leading one through a maze of the past in hopes of configuring a narrative of clarity. But as one falls into this information rabbit hole, one may realize this monument of “historically just knowledge” is built upon reconstructions through perspectives of subjective interpreters. But what constitutes one importance from another? It’s like the old idiom, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and in the case of the archive, archival holdings begin to unravel through this distinction. I’ve seen this subjective organization first hand in the Special Collections Library at AMNH, sifting through decades of interpreter’s perceptions of hierarchical importance’s. But I am yet another interpreter in the course of blurred histories. Will there ever be a light at the end of this tunnel? And is it the archivist’s contemporary responsibility to bring clarity to these histories?