Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

(Re)Purposing the Archive

Memory is a trickster
Memory is a nest of lies.
Memory gives you hope where none resides…


Still from Vera Frenkel’s The Secret Life of Cornelia Lumsden (1979).

In Capture and Loss: Memory, Media, Archive multimedia artist Vera Frenkel reflects on the role that the archive has played in her work, an occasion sparked by an invitation to chair Raiding the Archive, a panel discussion hosted by the 2010 Experimental Media Congress. In her article, Frenkel discusses the dichotomy between the apparent stability that the archive offers the stored material and the instability that the content of the archive offers since it can be used to reshape and inform cultural understanding. As Frenkel observes, the archive “cancels as it asserts” (163).

The malleability of perception is one of the themes explored by Frenkel, observing that “[e]ven the most conventional additions to an archive can shift the ground of what is perceived as real” (165). The archive should not be perceived as dusty papers sitting in banker boxes in climate controlled warehouses, it is a living, breathing entity in its own right. Archives are often exploited by conspiracy theorists and evangelicals since the word “archive” holds authority and reliability and has become “a sort of all-purpose verbal depot for good intentions” (166). Frenkel herself used the authoritative nature of the archive in her work The Secret Life of Cornelia Lumsden – an art work that playfully blurs the line between truth and fiction by exploring the disappearance (and supposed reappearance) of fictional Canadian novelist Cornelia Lumsden. As Frenkel reminds us “memory is a trickster,” that is, it is ambiguous, inconsistent and unreliable and it is the archivist who tries to “contain and protect it” (164).

On the other hand, it is natural for media artists to bring the archive to life. According to Frenkel “archive-raiding is somehow second nature to anyone working with time-based media” (165). In regards to cinema, the emergence of large, readily accessible digital databases has made this particular brand of cinema en vogue in academic circles under the rubric of “database cinema.” Archivist Jean Gagnon, borrowing from RĂ©gis Debray, reminds us “that every memory tool, such as an archive, is both a means of communication in space and a vector for transmission in time” (59). In fact, archive-raiding plays a large part in the philosophical framework presented in his article The Time of the Audiovisual and Multimedia Archive. Gagnon insists that “[m]erely preserving access to content is not sufficient to counter obsolescence or to ensure the culturally legibility of this content.” In other words, it is not enough to simply store the past, it must be seen, interpreted and commented on. One of the contemporary ways of doing this is through database cinema.

In addition to creating work using archival materials, archiving has also become a part of Frenkel’s practice due to an interest in her work from Queen’s University Archives. In fact, the role of archiving of digital works has become a problem for both media artists and archivists. “The expertise required to conserve these digital files is new and multifaceted: it relates to technology (control and video signals) and digitization that involves the information and computer science domains,” (62) explains Gagnon. These concerns become amplified when archiving artistic works, just consider the work produced by Cory Arcangel. According to archivist Walter Forsberg, “[t]he instability of archival practice with regards to artist-generated data is both terrifying and exhilarating” (39). On the other hand, the increasing accessibility of archives for artistic purposes due to digital conversion can only be seen as exciting.


Cory Arcangel’s F1 Racer Mod (2004) which can be viewed here.

Works Cited:
Forsberg, Walter. “The Artist Stripped Bare of his Papers, Even: An Interview with Cory Arcangel.” Incite: Journal of Experimental Media no.2 [Spring 2010]: 39-44.

Frenkel, Vera. “Capture and Loss: Memory, Media, Archive.” Public no.44 [Experimental Media]: 162-169.

Gagnon, Jean. “The Time of the Audiovisual and Multimedia Archive.” Translated by Timothy Barnard. Public no.44 [Experimental Media]: 162-169.

Sun, February 12 2012 » futurecinema2_2012

One Response

  1. Caitlin February 28 2012 @ 1:55 pm

    so beautiful! i cannot wait to see it!

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