Online community archives

Published on November 10th, 2017


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By analyzing these networked cultures and questioning whether archivists and conservators should shift their focus from conservation of records or materials to preservation of contextual information and relations, and whether they are the right person to do this, we will discuss how the less visible context of online culture is sustained.

Experimental Publishing
Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam
Monday 13 November 2017

 

Experimental Publishing Special Issue #4: A Bed, a Chair and a Table

A Bed, a Chair and a Table is a publication about the Poortgebouw, a former squat and vibrant living community located in the South of Rotterdam. In this book, oral histories from inside and outside the Poortgebouw are interlaced with material from various institutional and personal archives.

By bringing together these tales of resilience, political struggle, frustration and friendship with historical documents, this book brings forward new perspectives about the Poortgebouw’s unique history and its importance in the contemporary city. The starting point of the book was the Autonomous Archive, a local archiving machine built from parts of different computers by the inhabitants of the Poortgebouw and a group of students from XPUB.

A Bed, a Chair and a Table is the fourth ‘Special Issue’ conceptualised, developed and produced by the students from the Experimental Publishing course (XPUB) of the Piet Zwart Institute Media Design Master. It provides a trigger for the reader to further explore the Poortgebouw’s past, to engage with its community, and discuss a potential future amidst all of its complexities. The project encompasses a limited edition book, a Peer Production Licensed digital copy, a wiki based digital archive of documents found at the Poortgebouw, and an archive of the production process of the book. It is a testament to the archive as not the end, but the beginning of a debate.

 

Lecture: Online community archives

Some people argue that the digital archive is an oxymoron (Laermans and Gielen 2007) or that it is more akin to an anarchive (Ernst 2002, Zielinski 2014). Derrida mentioned the word anarchive to signal those records that remained outside of the purview of the legal archive (1991, 419). Ernst relates this notion to the digital archive and describes how the anarchive is something that cannot be ordered or catalogued because it is constantly re-used, circulated, expanding and dynamic, and is thus only a metaphorical archive (Ernst 2002). Similarly, Foster (2004) describes how the ‘anarchival’ is about obscure traces rather than absolute origins, emphasising the incomplete which may offer openings to new interpretation, projects or documents, or ‘points of departure’. These various descriptions implicate that digital archives, and in particular Web-based archives, function less as a storage space and more as a recycling centre in which the material (the archival document, if one can still use this term) is dynamic. In other words, as many of these media theoreticians and critics argue, the default of digital, and particular networked, archives is re-use instead of storage, circulation rather than centrally organised memory, and enduring change versus stasis. This beckons the question how to understand, capture and archive all this networked data on the Web?

In this class we will focus on attempts that have been made to preserve online cultures. From large institutes that scrape content (Internet Archive) and invent new documentation methods (Rhizome), to ‘amateur’ examples (GeoCities), and artists that form their own ‘networks of care’ (mouchette.org). Whereas these attempts all manage to capture more or less the content, form and aesthetics, we will look into the question of how the context of online culture is captured or documented to serve the archival tasks of preservation and sustainable access. By analyzing these networked cultures and questioning whether archivists and conservators should shift their focus from conservation of records or materials to preservation of contextual information and relations, and whether they are the right person to do this, we will discuss how the less visible context of online culture is sustained. On the one hand this may confirm existing research that archiving is no longer an act connected with power of institutions and authority, but that there is a shift to audience members, users or participants that are actively involved in the preservation of online culture. Moreover these discussions may show how the different components in these networks have little individual value by themselves and only obtain meaning in relation to each other. Such relations can be traced and compared in time and characterize the context of online cultures. At the end of this class we hope to propose an archival approach that is focused on sustaining relations, to reflect the flexibility and mutation of how online culture is continuously created and constructed.


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