Me You Hoxton Too


This article was written on 15 Jan 2012, and is filled under excerpts.

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Unleashing the Archive, by Mark Wigley

image: Dustin O’Hara, The Art and Tina Project 2009


The following excerpt is from Mark Wigley’s essay Unleashing the Archive

“The archive is protected both physically and ideologically by all sorts of rules, protocols, procedures, and technologies that govern access to the material. The purpose of all this protection is to create a space in which research can occur. It allows one to look closely at documents that probably would have been lost had they not been taken out of circulation and placed in the archive. Thus in a sense, the archive is against time. In fact, the archive is the enemy of time; it is against entropy.” (page 11)

“Archives exist outside of time, available for future generations of scholars to examine. More precisely, archives are available for generations of people who will become scholars by virtue of the new ways they will look at these documents. Archives await new eyes, demand new eyes.” (page 11)

“The dominant thrust of experimental design is to leave the archive behind. The archive is understood as the opposite of experimental design. Whatever has been archived is what the architect will have to move beyond.” (page 11)

“The highest ambition of the classical architect is to reach backward and catch that moment in time in which a built structure acted as a perfect bridge between the physical world and the cosmos, the moment in time in which architecture became a conduit to the timeless.” (page 11)

“Such an intimate bond between an archiving gesture and a transformative gesture leads to the claim that historical research is fundamental not just to design, but to the most radically experimental design. Work can only be experimental by both actively positioning itself relative to existing archives and through new archiving moves. We should also go so far as to suggest that every architect designs an archive in designing a building. If this is the case, then experimental design requires an experimental relationship to the archive. To explore the exact nature of this relationship, we have to understand the ways in which the architect has always been an archivist.” (page 12)

“It is not even possible to imagine the act of design without thinking of the archiving gesture. Buildings themselves can be understood as archives, that is, mechanisms for storing, classifying, and making historical research available. Couldn’t we argue that almost every design is, in a certain way, the design of an archiving machine? And wouldn’t that be very closely related to the standard claim that architecture can act as a witness and storehouse of the memory of a culture? If that’s the case, architects are surely in the business of making archives—archival experts even.

This notion raises the huge problem of how to archive a building since it is by definition too large to fit inside a standard archive. One could argue that the field of historic preservation reconfigures the architectural archive by turning the entire city into a big filing cabinet. Such vast archives without walls take the relationship between archiving and designing to a new level. Inasmuch as design involves gathering together diverse and evolving materials and giving them a singular fixed shape, his- toric preservation’s archiving gesture is always an act of design. To save something is to redesign it.

This leads to the parallel claim from the side of archives, that an unused archive is not an archive.” (page 12-13)

“This leads to the suggestion that there might be such thing as an activist archivist, one who designs an archive whose pur- pose is to polemically rearrange the standard perception of the world outside. To change the shape of an archive—the way it is catalogued, who gets in, what the access is, what is being collected, and so on—is to change the direction of thinking. Given that line of reasoning, perhaps it is the case that all archives are activist in as much as such choices have always been made. There is no such thing as a completely innocent and neutral archive.” (page 13-14)

“We want to test the proposition that the most experimental design work depends on a deep intimacy with the archive—that the archive might be what is front of us, that towards which we move, rather than that we leave behind.” (page 14)

text – unleashing the Archive

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