The Digital Archive

speaking about memory and preservation in the near and not-so-near future , Line Dezainde ponders the precarious status of collective memory now archived digitally, both in terms of its arbitrary /curatorial nature and in terms of its ephemerality as a resource prone to obsolescence and loss.
in the last few years, we have witnessed an enormous amount of data being digitized and fed into the web. A database culture, Manovich defines it, where information is not narrated, but associated non-linearly according to categories and algorithms. But archives are no databases: while they somehow look messy and unordered, they always have a curatorial mandate in narrating the stories of individuals and societies.

Ilya Kabakov - The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment
Ilya Kabakov – The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment

It is this curatorial mandate that Dezainde wishes to problematize: for Foucault, discourse is not formed as a linear, unified or consistent flow, but it rather proceeds by ruptures, whose micro-narratives reoccur in different places and at different times taking different meanings according to the contexts in which they locate themselves. It is the task of the archivist to collect and piece together documents, transforming them into “monuments”. But among these documents there are many that don’t make it into the archive.  With Atelier Angus Dezainde is interested in these very  “archives des obscures” and asks how  this personal collective memory could be preserved in the digital age, and  how it is possible to  demonumentalize such archive.

While digital archives might be the latest examples of our obsessions towards keeping alive collective memories, I think social media should have a special space in this discussion. do social media provide that very uncurated archive that Dezainde mentions? for instance, social media have been infamous for providing information about us that we don’t necessarily want to propagate; recently, there have been thoughts on what happens when no longer populate this world but our social media account stays on line: is it a trace of our achieved online immortality? is it a sort of online grave? is it a memento of our physical limitation as opposed to the eternity of the Web?

A recent article published on the New York Times, titled “When Artworks Crash: Restorers Face Digital Test” raised an important problem that digital archives today are facing: “..Paintings fade; sculptures chip. Art restorers have long known how to repair those material flaws, so the experience of looking at a Vermeer or a Rodin remains basically unchanged over time. But when creativity is computerized, the art isn’t so easy to fix.” The article describes the challenge of the Whitney Museum of Art to resurrect an early internet piece: with the fast pace of internet transformation, the code that once supported the piece is no longer working. Would new code recover the piece to its original state? or would it completely change its significance?