Archive Fever – Home of Authority

“As is the case for the Latin archivum or archium (a word that is used in the singular, as was the French archive, formerly employed as a masculine singular: un archive), the meaning of “archive,” is only meaning, comes to it from the Greek arkheion: initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded.  The citizens who thus held and signified political power were considered to possess the right to make or to represent the law. On account of their publicly recognized authority, it is at their home, in that place which is their house (private house, family house, or employee’s house), that official documents are filed. The archons are first of all the documents’ guardians. They do not only ensure the physical security of what is deposited and of the substrate. They are also accorded the hermeneutic right and competence.”  ~Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever (1995)

Mushi-Shi is a poignant, visually lush and compelling anime (animated-show) that takes a alter-dimensional view of common ailments and situations we often dismiss. This particular episode conveyed Derrida’s outline of the lineage of the Archive and its relation to power, that it seems the creators of this either read Archive Fever, or Derrida studied traditional Japanese ways and means, or the concept of the Archive is so very rooted in authority that it cannot but express its true essence, even in anime. The particular connection of how these two things came to resemble each other is less interesting to me than the fact that one of my favorite shows neatly visualizes the work of one of the most opaque although brilliant minds of our time.

Archive Fever: Tools and Contexts

Brooklyn Museum: Cylindrical Vessel

My professional career truly began at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2002. I’d held interesting and other Arts management jobs before and since that time,  however my first AHA moment was during curatorial internship in the Arts of the Americas. I didn’t know it, but I caught the Archive Fever at the Brooklyn Museum!

My favorite internship task was cataloging ancient artifacts in the staff-only storerooms. I thumbed through the card catalog (with real cards!) to find object references and descriptions. Then I added information to incomplete records in the computer archive. The curator, Nancy Rosoff and I visited the storeroom and sorted through the Museum collection and photographed, tagged and arranged items to indicated that they needed to be professionally photographed by the Photography department. This was our archival process. I am pleased to note that the images you see are objects that I’ve handled during that time.

Brooklyn Museum: Reclining JaguarOK

I enjoy the tools and practice of archiving. From the material to the pixelated, I am drawn by the initial mystery of an object, the inquiry into its origins and meaning, sometimes surprising discoveries, and categorizing items is a an investigative and associaive process that I appreciate.  I heart the tools of the trade, be they fabric gloves to protect “pre-historic” ceramics and textiles from my skin oils, to my sleek 500Gb, 7200rpm  G-drive mini external hard drive that stores my data set and digital stories.

Brooklyn Museum: Tripod Bowl

My work with the collection was doubly special to me. In addition to my enjoyment of the tools and practices of archiving, I reveled in the ancestral resonance of working with functional items from South America because my family hails from the same continent.  Of course, the best guesses of why and how an object was used, doesn’t often convey absolutes about the “life” of the object before we encountered it. Hence the challenge of the archive as a technology, and using today’s technology.

An Archival Object

Including an image of the hard drive now archives my archive. Meta!

Archives gather items from different places, varied moments in time, separate owners and etiologies, and groups them into the same topical space while feverishly insisting that they are related. The original context and reason from whence they came or were preserved is often lost or reproduced at the barest minimum of certainty. When the objects are grouped, they then  become something different than what they were when they were separated by time, place and circumstance, nee context, as they fulfilled their original purpose.