NetArtWorks: Online Archives
Published on May 28th, 2012
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an archive is considered a site of the past, a place that contains traces of a collective memory of a nation, a people or a social group. Artists have always shown an interest in archives, either as inspiration for their own work, or to use and re-appropriate material. An archive has therefore become a site of reproduction. Although not generally recognised as archives, commercial sites like YouTube and Facebook are examples of this: documents are posted and reposted all the time in these environments. Previously regarded as tedious repositories of the past, with the additional stereotype of archivists as spinsters who were picky, hardworking, standoffish, and, by most accounts, pitiable enforcers of orders and structures, today the image of archives is changing. They are becoming exciting places where one can adapt and appropriate through processes of cut-and-paste.
By commissioning new content/artworks that address or exploit the online space and the characteristics of networks, SKOR wants to critically engage with this space. The SKOR NetArtWorks are a place for project-driven exploration through digital media. This includes artist commissions, interface experiments, community discussions, essays and interviews, filtered links, and collaborations with others.
NetArtWorks: Online Archives
An archive is a collection of documents and records such as letters, official papers, photographs, recorded material, or computer files that is preserved for historical purposes.
As such, an archive is considered a site of the past, a place that contains traces of a collective memory of a nation, a people or a social group. Artists have always shown an interest in archives, either as inspiration for their own work, or to use and re-appropriate material. An archive has therefore become a site of reproduction. Although not generally recognised as archives, commercial sites like YouTube and Facebook are examples of this: documents are posted and reposted all the time in these environments. Previously regarded as tedious repositories of the past, with the additional stereotype of archivists as spinsters who were picky, hardworking, standoffish, and, by most accounts, pitiable enforcers of orders and structures, today the image of archives is changing. They are becoming exciting places where one can adapt and appropriate through processes of cut-and-paste.
An archive was once a place to preserve the past, to build legacies, as well as to remember and recognise the roots from which we grew. However, as Michel Foucault reminds us, memories and archives do not survive by chance but are constructed to serve structures of power. Thus, the shape of an archive constrains and enables the content it contains, and the technical methods for building and supporting an archive produces the document for preservation. After all, the word ‘archive’ is derived from the Greek arkhē, which means government, order, origin and first place. The status and meaning of archives changed with the rise of digital technologies. The creation of documents and their aggregation into all sorts of different – especially online – archives has become part of everyday life. Archives are now being built collectively. As Arjun Appadurai asserts in his essay Archive and Aspiration, ‘We should begin to see all documentation as intervention, and all archiving as part of some sort of collective project. Rather than being the tomb of the trace, the archive is more frequently the product of the anticipation of collective memory.’
It could be argued that regardless of whether an archive is composed of print, photographs, film and/or digital media, the technologies used to organise, search and share documents have assumed the purview of a State, with the crowd acting as the control mechanism. Digital archives have changed from a stable entity into flexible systems, referred to with the popular term ‘Living Archives’. But in which ways do these changes affect our relationship to the past, present and future? What are the implications for this mode of forgetting, for remembering, or for what is suppressed? Will the erased, forgotten and neglected be redeemed, and new social memories be allowed? Will the fictional versus factual mode of archiving offer the democracy that the public domain implies, or is it another way for public instruments of power to operate? These are questions that are becoming more and more relevant as the organisations behind the initial setting up of archives and their keepers are no longer able to fulfil these tasks – as is the case with SKOR from January 1, 2013. In its final round of commissions, SKOR NetArtWorks asked several artists to reflect on the online archive of SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain after 2012. What will happen to the data that has been collected and preserved for nearly 30 years, how can it continue to be fertile and grow, and remain available for others to use or appropriate? In other words, what artistic strategies should we adopt to survive the future?
Société Anonyme, Codex
The collective Société Anonyme created Codex, a printed book that will be sent to different locations around the world in 2012. The book contains binary encoded texts and selected images that portray SKOR’s activities and diverse culture, and is intended for any intelligent terrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may discover it in the future. Printing the binary code on special sustainable paper is the most stable conservation strategy at the moment. Whereas hard- and software become obsolete within years, paper can survive for centuries. Codex ensures that the binary code can easily be scanned at any time – making SKOR’s legacy available again to archivists and archaeologists in the future.
Michael Murtaugh, Portable SKOR
Michael Murtaugh’s Portable SKOR consists of two projects, one sprouting from the other. While exploring a way to visualise all the different paths in the SKOR website, another possibility surfaced. When the site’s data was converted, it became possible to capture all the content, and transfer it to a USB stick. With a portable SKOR archive that can be transferred to any server, the website can be re-worked and reused by anyone in any way. A distributed network of keepers and users can continue to disseminate SKOR’s knowledge and expertise online.
Shu Lea Cheang, Composting the Net
“Shuffle the current and archived postings on arts, media, technology shred the texts, compost the data. Make biodegradable data trash. What would grow out of the data compost?” With her work Composting the Net, Shu Lea Cheang takes a poetic, and at the same time what may be seen as a drastic approach. Composting the Net takes all the content of a website and shreds the words and images into ‘compost’, turning the archives, which many still consider to be non-living places, into a true graveyard of art. But, like seeds from a tree, the actions of digital worms generate new sprouts that refuse to be trashed and buried. Seemingly dead data is fertile and open to new perspectives.
This text is an adaptation of an introduction text to the thematic project Archive & Memory at the Piet Zwart Institute (January – April 2012) which became the inspiration for this round of SKOR NetArtWorks commissions. Thanks to all the first-year students, the visiting guest artists, and the staff at Piet Zwart, in particular Renee Turner, Simon Pummell, Leslie Robbins and Aymeric Mansoux.
Arjun Appadurai, Archive and Aspiration, Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder (eds.), Information is Alive, Rotterdam: V2_Publishing/NAI Publishers 2003, pp. 14 – 25.
Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, New York: Vintage Books 1972 (2010 edition).
Boris Groys, On the New, Artnode, December 2002 (online May 2012).
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