The Decay of Memory and Matter: Material Transformation in the New Artistic Archive
This project emerges from questions about how American society approaches film archiving and preservation, particularly in relation to the materiality of the image objects such an activity is predicated on. In the current moment, traditional film archives engage in a paradoxical endeavor: preservation. In an ideal sense, institutional archives strive to protect as many of their film holdings in the most original, pristine condition as possible. Yet such a mission is intensely problematic given a host of contemporary complications such as the natural instability of material film objects, changing concepts of how memorial processes operate, the rise of a digital remix culture, and the ever-increasing glut of moving images to be archived and preserved. Given this confluence of contextual concerns that traditional archives are confronted with, this project repositions the postmodern techniques of montage, collage and sampling as new, alternative archival forms. These strategies, which draw directly on the preexisting detritus of culture for source material, yield illuminative recombinations of the past and present. In contrast to the traditional modes, these approaches do not attempt to ward off decay but instead embrace the gradual transformation of its source materials as both an aesthetic and perhaps more importantly, as a necessary stage in the cycle of cultural creation. This project ultimately argues that these new forms of archiving represent effective alternatives to traditional methods of archiving, particularly as these new approaches align with contemporary understandings of memory, history, decay and remix culture. The project begins by historicizing the traditional modes of non-commercial film archiving; the material decay problem, particularly of nitrate film; and the shift in thinking about cultural memory. Much of this initial chapter takes cues from the work of film archivist Paolo Cherchi Usai. The following section explores new methods of creative archival work across media, as well as the cognizance of materiality that such varied work reflects. This section builds on critical theory of Walter Benjamin and historian David Lowenthal, as well as artists and theorists who address appropriation art, techniques of bricolage and montage, waste culture, forgetting, the use of found objects and contemporary remix culture. The following chapter concerns the centerpiece case study of Bill Morrison's Decasia: The State of Decay, a 2002 film that serves as a foundational piece of what we might consider to be new modes of archival work. The project concludes with an exploration of the implications and consequences of recognizing new methods as archival in nature with particular attention to contemporary digital culture.
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Danskey, Nathan (Georgetown University, 2016)I built a digital agent to address problems of memory around digital archives and database culture. Using Python and open source libraries the program takes control of a digital archive on behalf of the user, remembering, ...