Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The Archives Trilogy - Part Three
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We've reached a stage where we have access to anything we may want... or think we want... without going to other people or other places to get it.
We have moved beyond the age of post-modernism, in which everything is ironic, disconnected, and self-aware. Classical meaning is undermined by the post-modern, and the ability of archives to curate and contextualize is undermined as well, specifically by the audience's disregard for the effort.
Now post-modern meaning has been undermined as well.
We've arrived at what can be described as "hypermodern." Experience is stripped of context, even ironic context, as everything is everywhere and all is available and within reach. Nothing trumps anything else - there is no authority or final word. Only comparison.
We no longer are limited by the burden of the past or of geography. We aren't defined by politics or our access to goods. We travel through the virtual realm of social networks without being social. Online communities that have no tradition and no memory. Political "clouds" that have no force. Because they have no mass. All access, no opinions.
We're alone and by ourselves - together.
The technological advances have lured us away from the comfort and awkwardness of social situations where we go bowling with bosses, or negotiate baby-sitting, or talk face to face about what is wrong, really wrong with "Slumdog Millionare" and can you back that up, mister? We don't go out on dates - we hook-up online, tweet at the club, and bang in the back of the roller disco. We're reduced to our individual i.p. addresses. And there are no consequences.
We are all travelling in the same direction, but in our little boxes. When there is no social ramifications of actions, do actions matter? And if there is no link to tradition or history, there is no reason to preserve or value it. When context no longer has meaning, archives - specifically designed and charged with preserving culture - lose their purpose.
When people are no longer able to access the flow of tradition or the arrow of history, will there be a reason to go back to old films?
Cultural resonance is embedded in what passes before us. Advertisements blend with reality television blends with post-anti-neo-architecture. Fellini and Bogart don't appear in anyone's remixed postings (a cultural force no one's archiving either) as much as Stephen Colbert. Sergio Amadio nowadays makes the cut by virtue of Italian democracy. Or is it Gloria Guida?
Do we fight that or bathe in it?
A post-modern archive may attempt to embrace the new convergent intelligence of the hypermodern, by running into the oncoming traffic of re-mixed media, allowing digital access to non-authorized versions and recreating a social space around the artists rather than the artwork. The archives, unable to name, arrange, control or limit material, must ride the web of meaning, not try to assert a gravity at one end where too many strands have already been unraveled. Everything's free on the digital highway - intellectual property, advice, storage, context, and meaning.
So value travels back to the experience of spectatorship, not the ownership of objects, or the control of the information. Instead, merely a familiarity with it, engendered by YouTube and Bittorrent and delivering a pale ghost of the original impact.
Archives can't be the sole curator of culture anymore. The copyright holders have taken back their property. Culture comes to the people, not the people to the culture.
An attempt to embrace the art-space around the content rather than to limit, drive, or control the content, is how an archive of the future will remain a resource. A move away from the object and to the experience. From static to dynamic.
There will remain a need or desire to repurpose material for whatever the new digital delivery system will be . . . redoing what has already been done, over again, to the extent that our attention and what the finances available will bear.
That work is now to be done by others, unofficially and without authorization, in a vacuum.
For future users of archives, the destination has to be worth the trip.