Josie, I agree strongly with your last post. It also occurred to me that
I am writing as someone whose main interest in 'new media art' (I do
hate that term) is in terms of its histories and perhaps most
importantly of all its historical neglect. Thus my rather peremptory
flinging in of the Derrida quote you aked me to unpack. I quoted it
because it seemed to state an important if obvious set of issues. What I
understand Derrida to mean firstly is that the archive does not simply
reflect, record or preserve a pre-existing and available past, but in
fact produces it.
To some extent this is fairly obvious, though it is probable that many
people still regard archives, museums, galleries and other forms of
cultural depository, as near as practically possible transparent
conduits to a pre-existing reality. Taking one of the favourite whipping
boys of those working in 'new media' as an example, it is obvious that
the history of art presented by the Tate is not just partial,
agenda-driven and ideological structured, but is entirely produced by
the institution itself, in particular the historical and taxonomic
frameworks through which it structures and arranges its presentation of
that history. In fact it is an excellent example of precisely the kind
of power/control you wrote about in your earlier post.
The point of course is that the Tate or any other institution cannot act
otherwise. There is no privileged access to the history of art or any
other form of cultural activity, except through material traces, and
that making any sense of this, such as in a museum, gallery or archive,
requires making decisions, choices, about which traces to preserve,
which in turn necessarily involves exclusion as well as inclusion.
Museums, galleries and archives are about and for the future rather than
the past, in that they constitute the traces of prior human activity
that we inherit and which determine our relationship with the world into
which we are flung. Thus choosing what is and is not included, via
whatever taxonomies seem appropriate at the time, is a kind of wager, a
bet on the future.
(I have a personal interest in this issue. My father was in charge of a
prints and drawings department, with an active collecting policy and
budget. He spent his working life, especially when he was appointed
keeper, thinking about these very issues. What to collect and what to
exclude. It was an active process, fraught with problems and heavy with
I am particularly mindful of this in relation to the CACHe project here
at Birkbeck (www.bbk.ac.uk/hafvm/cache), looking at early British
computer art. As I am sure all recipients of posts from this list will
be well aware, there is a long history of what we might now call 'new
media art' going back at least to the 60s. It is also increasingly
obvious the degree to which, in Britain, after a period of much
excitement and development, this kind of practice was almost completely
ignored by mainstream galleries, museums, history of art departments for
many years. This could be seen perhaps as the result of a kind of
wager, a bet that this stuff didn't matter, wouldn't matter in or for
the future, because it would not matter historically.
The point I suppose I am trying to make is that to describe the question
of taxonomy as an issue of power runs the risk of ignoring the fact that
it is also a question of responsibility
Josephine Berry Slater wrote:
>> "&[T]he question of the archive is not, we repeat, a question of the
>> past. It is not the question of a concept of dealing with the past that
>> might already be at our disposal, an archivable concept of the archive.
>> It is a question of the future, the promise of the future itself, the
>> question of a response, of a promise and a responsibility for tomorrow.
>> The archive: if we want to know what that meant, we will only know in
>> times to come. Perhaps. Not tomorrow but in times to come, later on or
>> perhaps never. A spectral messianicity is at work in the concept of the
>> archive and ties it, like religion, like history, like science itself,
>> to a very singular experience of the promise."
> Charlie - maybe you could decipher this quote for us a bit - I
> personally find it quite opaque.