Proof of existence

I drew this diagram to help me think about how my current drawing projects relate to each other and what I think are the underlying and connecting themes.

160229 project relationship diagram for web

I’ve written about the idea of recording everyday experience and of the valuing of records and what to do with them. These thoughts seems to coalesce around the idea of the archive.

Interestingly, in a recent peer workshop about mapping our own work, part of the drawing I made was described by Rachel, who was running the workshop, as ‘a kind of archiving’. The question is: exactly what kind of archiving?

We’ve recently been on two visits to archives: the Museum of London Archaeological Archive and the Stanley Kubrick Archive at UAL Elephant & Castle. Both illustrate one of the issues on my mind: accumulation. The Museum of London Archive is a vast warehouse and the Kubrick archive comprises 873 meters of boxes of stuff. When you have this much, finding anything is difficult. And the value of any one thing is lost in the morass; in fact, no one thing can add much additional value when you already have so much. So what’s the point?

Recording seems to be, at its most basic, a proof of existence. Archaeology is an approach to finding, revealing and re-valuing the material record of existence. Perhaps vast archives need an archaeology of themselves, just to appreciate what is there.

What could this archaeology be? At the Museum of London, everything is recorded in data-bases and on index cards; there’s a searchable catalogue of the Kubrick archive. But the process of drilling down in the catalogue illustrates the problem.

I was thinking about the part of Kubrick’s archive that relates to unfinished projects: the archive is a record of work that resulted in nothing. One of his unfinished projects was a Holocaust film, provisionally called Aryan Papers. The catalogue has 6 sub-headings for this project: development; location; research; casting; filming preparation; other source material. I clicked on ‘location research’. There are 147 boxes of material, divided into 9 sub-headings: 8 European countries and a 9th for maps and videos. Clicking through to ‘1 Austria’, I now find 9 more sub-classifications for towns in Austria and areas within them. The first of those ‘Vienna and Gratz (sic)’ contains just 2 boxes.

To work through this material would be almost to replicate Kubrick’s own work. Writing this, I wonder if that is an important aspect of a personal archive: what it tells you about what it would be like to be Stanley Kubrick thinking about where to make this film. Of course, the process of looking through the material would reveal as much about your own personal associations – with the content of the material, with the fact of handling so much material – and feelings – about spending so much time, looking in so much detail.

Thinking about archiving in relation to my own work, the important things are an archive as a place to deposit objects and not keep them with you; and as a process of valuing or re-valuing what might otherwise be forgotten. Such an archive might contain only ideas, perhaps ideas for work, rather than works themselves.