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"Lost Landscapes," delivered at Screening the Future 2012, University of Southern California, 22 May 2012. This talk includes three moving image sequences totalling 38 minutes, which unfortunately are not part of the Slideshare version. This talk asserts that archives and archivists are presently governed by anxiety, and proposes that we replace anxiety with celebration and performance.
Lost Landscapes Screening the Future Los Angeles, May 2012Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 2This is something new. Ive done Lost Landscapes programs for seven years, and Ive been talkingabout archives for longer than that, but I havent tried to combine two realms of expression. So, todayan experiment...
THE ACCELERANDO: “THE GREATEST EFFLORESCENCE OF CIVILIZATION IN HISTORY, A NEW RENAISSANCE.” Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue MarsWednesday, May 23, 2012 3This is how the utopian-minded writer Kim Stanley Robinson deﬁnes the Accelerando. It’s a speeding-up ofdevelopment in all realms: exploration, invention, science and philosophy. But it also comes with insecurity.
"And yet still, with all the blossoming of human effort and conﬁdence of the accelerando, there was a sense of tension in the air, of danger.... A stressed renaissance, then, living fast, on the edge, a manic golden age: the Accelerando. And no one could say what would happen next."Wednesday, May 23, 2012 4Robinson says: "And yet still, with all the blossoming of human effort and conﬁdence of the accelerando, therewas a sense of tension in the air, of danger....A stressed renaissance, then, living fast, on the edge, a manicgolden age: the Accelerando. And no one could say what would happen next."
Anxiety Celebration PerformanceWednesday, May 23, 2012 5We’re indeed living in an anxious age. And much of this is occasioned by the truly wonderfulpossibilities awakened by the turn toward digital. So it seems appropriate to start by talking aboutarchival anxiety, and then I’m going to suggest new ways of thinking about our work that might putworry in its place.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 6Much of what we do as archivists and as archives is motivated by anxiety.Some of this is our own. Some comes from the public or our parent organizations. It thenspeaks through us.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 7Fears:amnesia, but also:remembrance (corporate, as well as personal and familial)We are on the fence about memory, in the same way that we "think a number of ways" about privacyWe also fear losing control over our personal records if someone else makes stories out of them.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 8And in fact theres a huge discourse of loss around the modern archives. Or fear of loss. Lossis unspeakable.LOSS MAKES THE FOUND MORE VALUABLE -- process plates are perfect accompaniment forthis.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 9[We should not cause media to be lost. But we should also recognize that loss is formative. Loss ofrecords increases the value of records that still exist. And found records gain value because of thosethat are lost. If you watch news stories about archives, youll see very few that promote the daily workof archivists doing the routine work theyre supposed to be doing. Most of them are about new"discoveries," however authentic these discoveries may be. The common denominator of these storiesis that theyre about materials saved by accident.]
MORAL PANICWednesday, May 23, 2012 10And we’re in the midst of a moral panic about archives.
from yesterday’s WikipediaWednesday, May 23, 2012 11Aided by the press, the public is conﬂating many ideas into a single source of anxiety.
Bit rot Format obsolescence Loss of machines "I cant play my VCR tapes." "Dont ﬁlms explode if you dont copy them to DVD?" Distrust of the cloud Dot-com phobia My personal information! TMI (we heard a lot of this yesterday)Wednesday, May 23, 2012 12This confuses the public. They’re waiting for us to give them clarity and reassurance.Right now some archivists (and a lot more journalists) are promoting a kind of moral panic tofocus attention and funds on digital longevity. Film archivists did this in the 1970s with the"Nitrate wont wait!" campaign.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 13Ultimately, much collecting is driven by anxiety, but that is not our only motivation.But could we ﬁnd another attitude to take in place of anxiety?
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 16As an alternative to anxiety, I proposeCELEBRATION. Now, celebration isn’t just rejoicing (see 4 and 1). And I’m not talking about the kind ofcelebratory attitude we see in, for instance, local history institutions, where negativity is banned. I’mtalking about activities archives already enable under different names. To observe occasions. To makewidely known, and display.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 17We know about the functions institutional archives serve, and we’ve been shown some great examples of howarchives will support future research and authorship. But I haven’t seen much about the relation between archivesand the public. The public is our ultimate client. They, and those who sometimes act in their name, have life-and-death power over archives. They don’t appreciate us enough, but when they do, it’s for a reason. Celebrationmeans looking to the public as well as to our legacy customers. It means deploying our collections in the serviceof both private and public memory.
Amateur Cinema League, December 1926Wednesday, May 23, 2012 18It might be useful to think about the reasons why people record, preserve and play back events. So let’s lookat home movies. People shoot home movies of people, places and animals they love, and events they wantto remember. While they may aspire to entertain as they remember, this is not about the business ofentertaining.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 19Individuals often record historical events as they witness them, too. There’s a line that stretches from thehome movies of war-torn Europe that Peter Forgacs has gathered through Abraham Zapruder’s ﬁlm to thevideos that protesting students are shooting in Québec today. This ties in with the idea of celebration asdisplay. I believe the future of archives has a lot to do with how well we merge media created by individualswith media funded by institutions.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 20My thought is simple. Celebration means that we help the public engage in active recollection andremembrance, and that we accept that we are collecting for the public beneﬁt, regardless of whom ourimmediate users may be.Are we doing this? I’m not always sure.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 21Much of what we heard yesterday was prompted by abundance, which can really be terrifying. Theres fartoo much to collect. How did we get here? One way of describing our trajectory, perhaps not the only way,might be this. Sometimes we carefully choose what to collect, but often we collect because we can. And nowwere realizing theres too much, and we cant. And we address "cant" as a technical or economic issue,rather than a cultural or social issue. We are not doing a great job thinking about why we collect and whatwe should (and should not) collect.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 22Active recollection. Active efforts to preserve and recall. We stand a better chance of being appreciatedfor this if we collect records with personal implications, as well as institutional ones.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 23Im going to suggest that users want us to recognize that archives are not ours, but theirs. Even if were thecustodians. Facebook recognized this. I hate to praise them, but in this case they deserve it. Their newTimeline, whatever you may think of it, acknowledges that our history isnt just what we say and do, whatpictures we take and where we go, but also the timeline of what we watch, listen to, read and play. We areone with media. Its our shadow (or perhaps thats the other way around). We are less than complete apartfrom the media we consume.
photo: Bryan BoyceWednesday, May 23, 2012 26Finally I want to suggest that we think of our archival work as a kind of public performance, ratherthan a service or a utility. While we’re part of the infrastructure of history, we’re also more than that.The philosopher J.L. Austin said “To say something is to do something.” Let me invert that: “To dosomething is to say something.”
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 27To collect and engage in archival activity is to intervene in the ﬂow of history. Even a passive archives thatsimply responds to queries and requests plays an interventionist role. And this is not a time to be quiet.This is a time to push out our holdings to the maximum degree we’re able. We need a historically consciouspopulation. We need a more literate world with more authors. We need more media, even if we’re notcapable of collecting and preserving it all.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 28And even if you feel differently and prefer a quieter world to a noisier one, I would ask you to consider thefollowing thought: an inaccessible archives, a dark archives cannot advocate for its own existence.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 29We construct our identity through active expression. We cannot rely on third parties to do this on our behalf.Look at the explosion of user-generated media. We are pushing the bounds the gatekeepers have imposed.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 30A quiet world is not in the interest of archives.