The Vitality of the Archives (2015)

In September 2015 I headed to Warsaw to take part in the NiNA Beta Festival, celebrating the opening of the new Polish National Audiovisual Institute. I was joined by Lev Manovich and Jesse de Vos, of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (about which I wrote a few years ago!), in an opening-day panel on “The Vitality of Archives.”

Contrary to popular opinion, archives are not merely dusty, passive repositories of characters. They are characterized by “vitality”, a potential to influence contemporary life. “The Archive” in our view is a process rather than a place, and as much a vessel of our past as a shaper of our future. It is a thoroughly material process: human cravings and endeavors find the archive brimming with allies and obstacles in the shape of shelves, drawers, and servers; files, folders, and vials; algorithms, lists, and fiches; chairs, tables, and screens. Therefore, we will begin the conversation about the properties and capabilities of an archive as a cultural form – as one should, in the new seat of an institution devoted to digitization and archiving – with the problems of arranging, outfitting, and furnishing contemporary audiovisual archives. How does the shifting material organization of content determine the forms of “the vitality of archives”? What is the policy of carriers and formats? Towards what does the material aspect of contemporary archive nudge us, and what does it prevent us from doing? These are the questions that Lev Manovich, Shannon Mattern, and Jesse de Vos will attempt to answer. The discussion will be moderated by Mateusz Halawa.