Niall Dorgan Images, Archives, History Literature Review The archive is often only seen as an institution which collects

and preserves documents. However, it is also often used by artists as a medium. In this literature review, I am concerned with the use of the archive as an artistic medium, and particularly photography’s place in this process. Paul Ricoeur’s text introduces the challenges and opportunities of the use of the archive in art as well as historical practice. Allan Sekula addresses photography’s suitability as the means of an archive, and issues around objectivity in this space. Hal Foster is interested in what motivates artists to work with the archive, and how they respond to it. Okwui Enwezor is a curator whose text was written as an introduction to one of his archive-based shows. He shares common ground with Foster’s essay, and responds to his own concerns around working in the role of artistas-archivist.

In Archives, Documents, Traces, Paul Ricoeur argues that the ‘trace’ is vital to historical practice as “a new connector between […] temporal perspectives” (2006: 66). In his essay, Ricoeur seeks to prove this hypothesis. His reasoning in the essay follows something of a historiography, charting progressing opinions on historical monuments and documents, and bringing them up to the contemporary moment (of writing, 1978). As an example, Ricoeur cites Jacques Le Goff, stating that “archives were for a long time designated by the term ‘monument’” (2006: 68). Ricoeur argues that at the turn of the twentieth century, positivist history sought to glorify the document over the monument, seeing it as an objective record: “If history is a true narrative, documents constitute its ultimate means of proof. They nourish its claim to be based on facts” (2006: 67) He had earlier cited from Encyclopaedia Universalis that archives “are only conserved documents” (2006: 66), noting that this requires discrimination between which documents should be conserved and which disposed of. In arguing his hypothesis on the necessity for the ‘trace’ in historical practice, Ricoeur returns to this topic of editing and selection. He states that “any trace left by the past becomes a document for historians […], the most valuable traces are the ones that were not intended for our information.” (2006: 67).
Ricoeur concludes his argument with a warning of a new type of positivist view. He predicts that

with increased computerisation of records, databases will be “suddenly crowned with a halo of the same authority as the document cleansed by positivist criticism.” (2006: 68). He warns against this as simply a continuation of that delusional view he highlighted earlier, which will legitimize a subjective and edited archive as an objective history.

In his well-known and much-quoted essay The Body and the Archive, Allan Sekula traces the history of how photography has been used in the archive to subjugate the body and define the ‘otherness’ of its subjects. His methodology in this essay is to examine systems which were variously in vogue during the establishment and rise in popularity of institutional photographic archives. His main examples are the archiving systems of

Sekula states that these systems “were instrumental in constructing the very archive they claimed to interpret” (1992: 349). of these early archives. and shares many of his conclusions. He asserts that these men intended for their systems to be completely objective. differentiating this from “the allegorical impulse attributed to postmodernist art by Craig Owens” (2004: 21). an institutional archive’s documents support only its institutional views and aims. public yet private. Foster concludes that a large part of the ‘archival impulse’ is the urge to connect things that are disconnected. As Bertillon and Galton’s systems only worked to prove themselves. catalogue. Here he describes photography . His methodology is to examine the archive-based work of a number of artists. In the work. factual yet fictive. He argues that this kind of work “is archival since it not only draws on informal archives but produces them as well. the job of the camera. at times the absurdity” (2004: 21). aims. and retrieve those records. but based them on subjective views and assumptions. […] in a way that underscores the nature of all archival materials as found yet constructed. Enwezor seeks to specifically examine photography’s place in archival art. due to its mechanical and ostensibly objective nature. 2008: 12). Sekula asserts that this aim was the construction of an ‘other’. he does this by examining other artists’ archival projects and how they respond to different types of archive. and conclusions in these cases. He states that “the invention of the modern criminal cannot be dissociated from the construction of a law-abiding body” (1992: 351). Similarly to Foster. He states that these connections are often tenuous. refers to his work. including Thomas Hirschhorn. and welcomes this “move to turn ‘excavation sites’ into ‘construction sites’” (2004: 22) as an opportunity to expand our view of history beyond that of the traumatic. Hal Foster’s essay An Archival Impulse seeks to examine the motivation of artists working with the archive in their practice. In his piece Archive Fever: Photography Between History and the Monument. is intrinsically suited to archival uses. and their aims in doing so. Okwui Enwezor traces many of the same arguments as Foster. every film is a priori an archival object. but the ability to store. meaning that the archive’s true power is not that of recording. Foster concludes his text with the assertion that archival art holds this “paranoid dimension [as] the other side of its utopian ambition” (2004: 22). and sees this as the aim.Alphonse Bertillon and Francis Galton. He examines the role of artist-asarchivist as well as examples of artists constructing archives and documents. a show curated by Enwezor. of working with archives. Tacita Dean.” (Enwezor. In the case of his particular examples. This piece was written as an introduction to Archive Fever. “partial and provisional” (2004: 21).” (2004: 5). Enwezor asserts from the outset that photography. “Because the camera is literally an archiving machine. Sekula concludes that “the central artifact of this system is not the camera but the filing cabinet” (1992: 351). Foster believes that the ambiguity of these connections is in itself a critique of “the difficulty. and result. every photograph. and attempt to summarise their process. the job of the filing cabinet. Sam Durant and Irishman Gerard Byrne.

Foster. problematising the traditional view of history and the archive. O (ed) Archive fever: uses of the document in contemporary art Göttingen : Steidl Publishers. asserting that subjective decisions are an essential part of collecting documents into an archive. they agree in their conclusions also.and film as “critical instruments of archival modernity” (2008: 12). and their responses to this process. it is also within the archive that acts of remembering and regeneration occur” (2008: 46-47). “discovered in photography an instrument of social control and differentiation underwritten by dubious scientific principles” (2008: 13). and set out the challenges/problems of looking at archives. Ricoeur warns that a positivist view of history can easily overlook the archive’s subjectivity. By and large. C (ed) The Archive Massachusetts: MIT Press. “Archive as Medium” (2008: 21). Enwezor’s concluding paragraph echoes Foster’s conclusion too: “[W]hile the archive emerges as a place in which concerns with the past are touched by the astringent vapours of death. A (1992) ‘The Body and the Archive’ In Bolton. H (2004) ‘An Archival Impulse’. Ricoeur. summarising that its subjects. destruction and degeneration […]. “Archive and Public Memory” (2008: 26). Foster and Enwezor agree that when artists use these techniques on the archive. and allowing them to become the spaces for a new narrative or examination. Traces’ in Merewether. Documents. “Documents as Monuments: Archives as Meditations on Time” (2008: 23). Enwezor refers to Sekula’s The Body and the Archive. Ricoeur and Sekula examine the archive itself (Sekula with specific reference to photography). They call into question the objectivity of any archive. R (ed) The Contest of Meaning Massachusetts: MIT Press . Even a glance at Enwezor’s headings shows similarities with Foster’s frame of reference: “Archive as Form” (2008: 14). They warn that archives can be carelessly regarded as a thorough and accurate record. Foster and Enwezor centre their work on artists’ practice in working with archives. Foster in particular points to the practice of connecting documents together with links that are occasionally tenuous and ambiguous. Sekula. The four texts above share common ground but also differ in their approach. they manage to challenge it. [Word count: 1425] Bibliography Enwezor. They refer to artists who construct/alter archives. By contrast. Bertillon and Galton. O (2008) ‘Archive Fever: Photography Between History and the Monument’ In Enwezor. October Vol 110. 3-22. showing how this challenges the apparent objectivity of ‘official’ archives. in seeking to treat the document as objective data. P (2006) ‘Archives. They largely accept those challenges laid out by Ricoeur and Sekula above. Generally I would split them into two different sections. Sekula especially outlines the difficulties of institutional control of archives. again challenging how artifacts are connected together within ‘official’ archives.

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