Editorial – The Anarchival Impulse


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A quick glance at some of the latest, major international art events, such as the 55th Venice Biennale (The Encyclopedic Palace, 2013) or Documenta 13 (2012), is enough to realize that the archival turn in contemporary art is all but exhausted. As a research project rooted in such debate, Mnemoscape Magazine undoubtedly shares this very obsession. However, in pursuing its investigative and analytical aims, this publication provocatively takes off from a movement of opposition and demystifycation. We propose to turn our object of research upside down. To destroy it, if you will. In this way, we hope to put this obsession under the scrutinizing eye of a microscope, critically dissecting it to the point of eventual neutralization. But, perhaps, we will just end up amplifying it with a magnifier, or pushing it to a point of sacrality, since, as we know, any iconoclastic gesture ultimately results in a reinforcement of the object of its violence. As the destination is somewhat blurred, we felt the necessity to start this journey with questioning not so much the idea of what constitutes an archival impulse, but rather to ask ourselves what does not, what lies, so to say, on the other side of the coin.

Ten years ago, Hal Foster published An Archival Impulse, an essay tackling the emergence of a specific archival tendency in contemporary art, a trend “with a distinctive character of its own”. In passing, however, Foster suggested that this impulse, since more concerned with obscure traces than absolute origins, could perhaps be more accurately described as “anarchival”. For our first issue, we decided to brush up and expand this early intuition. Perhaps, we felt, this position could help us speculating on the complicated and dynamic relationships between remembering and forgetting, keeping and discarding, preserving and destroying.

The word anarchival has a somehow unstable, undefined and undefinable meaning, difficult to pin down. The Greek prefix 'ana-' means both 'above' and 'against', but also 'upside down' and 'wrong'. In this sense, the anarchival is at once a feature integral to the proper functioning of the archive (since its power lies precisely on the negative privilege of deciding what to destroy); a force that opposes to its traditional, authoritarian institution; and a playful, improper use of archives and archival practices. The term fluidly oscillates and shifts between the semantic fields of (1) destruction, when intended in its archiviolitic declination; (2) subversion, in its proximity to the word 'anarchy'; and (3) regeneration in its state of openness and not yet explored potentiality. The articles that you will find here propose different examples and interpretations of the anarchival, while presenting a wide array of methodologies and raising a number of suggestive insights and observations. But, most likely, they will not solve the riddle: if anything, they will probably multiply the doubts and questions.

In Pedro Lagoa's archive of destruction, the archival structure is paradoxically used to preserve what attempts against memory – namely destructive and iconoclastic acts. The language, protocols and methodologies proper to classical archaeology are improperly adopted as activist tactics to denounce political injustice and present situations of economical and ecological disaster by the art collective Az.Namusn.Art in the Anarcheology Series. In the work of Alexander Apostol, here in conversation with Lisa Blackmore, the anarchival force of water is conjured up to wash away an illusory image of Venezuelan classical modernity and to reveal the crimes and abuses of the military government of the time, hidden behind grandiose, scenographic vistas.

Anarchival may be readings and interpretations of archives that challenge the pitfalls and dangers of methodological fetishisms, linear narratives and prescriptive chronological orders. Giulia Bassi describes her historiographic methodology grounded in interdisciplinary analysis and exegetical rigour; whereas Paolo Chiasera proposes a method of art criticism, aptly renamed 2.0, which sits in-between Warburgian iconology and Spenglerian synchronic tables. In their (an)-archival experiment, Lucy Bayley, Ben Cranfield and Anne Massey reveal the perambulations and unexpected connections of three archival fragments from the ICA's collection, moving across time and space.

A central node in the debate is represented by the digital turn and the impact of new technologies of storage on the conceptual and empirical aspects of archival collections. Wolfgang Ernst coins the term dynarchive to denote the condition of permanent change, constant updating and migration of contents in digital collection. Nonetheless, Ernst warns us, not to be fooled by the anarchival appearances of new media: in their techno-mathematical structure the spectre of the archive recurs stronger than ever. Curator Alana Kushnir takes us through the exhibition Tabularium, recently on show at Slopes (Melbourne), where the contemporary condition of geographical dispersion of information in data centres is investigated through the historical parallelism of the Roman Tabularium, an institution virtually recreated by Lawrence Lek in the architectural simulation Memory Palace (2014), here accessible.

Errors, glitches and anomalies are yet another feature of the anarchival impulse. In The Sicilian Family, Emilio Vavarella produces deliberate glitches by substituting a part of the ASCII code of scanned vintage family pictures with a story based on the way he had come to learn about each of the ancestors' portrayed therein. Alessandro Di Pietro creates an anomalous guidebook of Documenta 13 using smuggled scans of the artworks exhibited in place of the original images.

Finally, the anarchival impulse operates through repetition, which as Freud pointed out in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, is nothing but one of the many faces in which the death drive is made manifest. In his show “Analogue Analogies” at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, reviewed for us by Yvonne Bialek, Simon Starling reproduces analogue, documentation shots from the museum photo archive and creates a replica of its no longer in use photo laboratory, at once commenting on the obsolesce of the photographic medium and the funereal nature of museum collections. On the other hand, discussing the work of the artist trio Janez Janša, Robert Luzar shows us how, through its improper and uncontrolled reiteration, the name of the law may be performatively subtracted, deconstructed and eventually deprived of any efficacy and power. Repetitions, however, can also be hysterical symptoms due to traumatic experiences, as Eirini Grigoriadou's points out in her analysis of The Atlas Group's archive.

What we may find out at the end is that the anarchival is just another face of the archival and that forgetting is a function integral to memory as it is remembering. We could not have any better crowning to this discovery than Chris Mason's short story Retrograde Stairwell, whose content we would rather not disclose so not to spoil the pleasure of reading.

Mnemoscape

Elisa Adami and Alessandra Ferrini