[-empyre-] Culturally specific and unreliable archives

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Sun Oct 10 07:12:39 EST 2010

dear all

thanks much, Jon, for responding to such a great extent, and Ben Bogart picked up some of threads here, pointing to what he believes is the near impossibility of digital preservation and "migration" / "proliferative preservation."

i was struck by Jon's writing, and even before you mentioned it, I went into my browser to see whether this "Unreliable Archivist" was indeed an art or an archive performance project once staged at the Walker Art center, near the end of the last century (1998), and indeed, there it was, or is. (and then you say it has been "frankensteined"?)


Without wanting to  comment much, this is indeed a provocation to archiving methodologies or concepts, and also, as your answers suggest, raising more questions as to the difference, which I tend to see and want to make, between art works or media arts project preserved or preservable, and here i am thinking, yes, of culturally specific productions,  a dance or an installation or a site specific work produced locally, or an interactive work produced in particular contexts at particular times for audiences/visitors, etc (subsequently, if you like, recombinatorially archived or through "this variable activity" as Jon calls it after his Merce Cunningham reference),   and artworks that invite/depend on unreliable participants in the first place or perhaps are the kind of inherently technology and network-dependent processes addressed by Ben Bogart.

Jon suggests:
>As I understand the Mukurtu archive, a boy from a village might have to sit down with his grandmother to see certain images of his relatives, and the occasioning of this bond that is ultimately more important than the photographs viewed. The fact that this bond is social rather than financial is one of the many things that distinguishes indigenous protocols from DRM. 

yes, this is the point, to some extent, made by "Art and Cold Cash,"  but the cold cash always impacts the social relations and the perceptions constituted for cultural/artistic values and social prestige or cultural capital. 

My question is (reading your fascinating with:  " [t]he most notorious aspect of the Unreliable Archivist, however, was not how it worked but how it failed") -
how unreliable does it get, or how uncontrollable does it become (the artwork or process and the archive "we" (Yann's autistic Us Archive Generation)  constitute)?

Example: is not an installation such as George Legrady's "Pockets full of Memory" [http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/pockets-full-of-memory/] dependent precisely on what the audience participants will do, what they will contribute and share to "make" the work (and its 'self-organizing data-base') work, in other words how well the unreliable archivists perform?  But this method or this principle may not apply equally well to a Merce Cunningham choreography or, say, to a work by Patrick Mahon (from the Art and Cold Cash collective) who early on, when the exchanges with the south started, was making interrogative drawings that took up the symbolic language of currency (they appear like strangely ornate baroque-like etchings coalescing into beavers and officious-looking buildings and such) and yet his repertoire was also  inflected with imagery from everyday Northern/ Inuit life: broken skidoos, someone gutting a seal, garbage dumps, and such. 

Johannes Birringer
DAP lab

>>>B. Bogart writes

I believe that technology and IP, as it is currently practised, makes 
any preservation nearly impossible, and certainly complicates even 
migration. I think choices regarding what technologies an artwork should 
depend on should be a careful decision, that can't be limited by the 
here-and-now pragmatics of what warez software can easily be acquired, 
or happens to be preinstalled on our computers


When I pass on, to whom will I entrust the software that makes up my


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