A Future of Archive

I see a little inflatable horse from where I am sitting, while I am typing this text. My flatmate gave it to me almost two years ago. It is one of those things I imagine you get at a village festival, and it reminds me of summer holidays in the countryside of Spain: trashy, cheap but lovely. It is somehow annoying that even though the colour of the horse has been bleached out by the sun, it remains as inflated as the first day.

Archive’s utopia has always been the promise of access to information in the future and the organisation of knowledge in a certain order. Today this promise seems to stand very close to the old fantasies of history and taxonomy, or as in the words of Jorge Luis Borges in his story “The Library of Babel”, the belief in an elegant hope. I would like to think that these expectations were not only caused by the constant human effort to preserve the past but to narrate. As if archives would have always been haunted by a narrative impulse “to the inexplicable, the unspeakable, the ineffable” (K. Hayles) — which would not mean the narrative is the opposite to the promise of order but a graceless hope, the hope of narrative. Archive’s corruption of knowledge enumeration, location, distribution, or whatever might organise archive’s content is its narrative drive to incompetence, denial of meaning, or failure of expression.

I read somewhere that millennials have shifted the meaning of utopia, instead of thinking of utopia as a perfect place, they think of utopia as a perfect time. I don't see a clear distinction between these two. However, it suggests to me that if utopia works in terms of time, it has more to do with its narrative possibilities, and the use of fiction as a tool to disrupt archives. If fiction takes place in time rather than space, how does it modify the present, past, and future? Diann Bauer pointed out that: “when projections are made about possible futures and those projections in turn effect actions in the present then this is a case of a future having a truth value, though it is a projection of the future happening in the present, not the future itself causing effects in the present.” At the core of contemporary digital archives resides the same logic. Current archives, working with algorithms, have replaced the utopia of order by the hope of time folding. Digital archives dream of infinite back and forth time travels and of uncountable narratives of anticipation and regression. The narrative form of archives has never been so playful: computer scheduled tasks create the narrative of efficacy and updating. Social media “you might like” suggestions narrate consumption. Or as Bauer points out, market's agreements on the future value of a thing or property tell the story of trading.

My sister and I value words. My 9-year-old sister told me she wanted to write a story titled “The End of Dimensions.” For her dimensions were not spaces but times: one was the present, another the future, the past, and the fictional time. As she described it, there was also a “non-accessible dimension” in each dimension, like the dark side of each time. Such an elaborated topology of time impressed me, and I asked her if I could write the story with her. Our plot revolved around three magical fairies (me and my two sisters), and how they managed to save all the dimensions from a powerful human that wanted to govern all of them. Since we were very strict about the time idea, we decided that the destruction of a dimension would not result in its physical disappearance but in its temporal collapse. We thought that if time always goes forward, for a dimension to be destroyed it would have to go backward. And actually, here we ended our story. We were so thrilled by this idea, we just focussed on playing around with spelling words backwards.

This taught me that all beginnings might enjoy a refusal to meaning-making by paying attention to the ghosts of past and future. Like archives, in order to start organising thoughts, one cannot simply get rid of memories and expectations. If archives and narratives might exist in a symbiotic interaction, whatever comes out of this relationship will be haunted by the spectres of time. “This ‘beginning’, like all beginnings, is always already threaded through with anticipation of where it is going but will never simply reach and of a past that has yet to come. It is not merely that the future and the past are not ‘there’ and never sit still, but that the present is not simply here-now” (K. Barad). It seems to me that narrative’s tendency to the inexplicable is more relevant when thinking about archives than any “smooth topology connecting beginning and end” (K. Barad). Archives and narratives are not (or have never been) only entangled but also eternally haunted by incompleteness and indeterminacy. Or in other words, the archive-narrative entanglement is a graceless hope of continuous time foldings.

This text was part of the exhibition A Future of Archive together with artists Rustan Söderling and Berkay Tuncay, in Corridor Project Space, Amsterdam, 2018.

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