Accepted Paper:

Destroy to Save. Objects selection and value hierarchy in a national film archive  


Paola Juan (University of Lausanne)
Sélima Chibout

Paper short abstract:

This paper relies on a fieldwork research ‎at a national film archive. The profusion of collection objects, financial and space constraints lead archivists to a severe selection. According to which values do they preserve or destroy heritage artefacts? How are these objects devalued and revalued?

Paper long abstract:

"The national film archive's history has built itself as the history of the struggle against destruction". (Vincent, cinema historian and contributor to this archive)

This paper will rely on a research jointly led with Sélima Chibout ‎at a national film archive from October 2015 to May 2016 (participatory observation and in-depth interviews). This national film archive has been built by collecting the production of waste engendered by the cinema industry: left-over films, flyers, posters, machines… The monetary value of these artefacts is extremely volatile.

This institution works to preserve "cinema" as heritage. Preserving is a fight against time, against the inexorable destiny of every object: to become waste. But "cinema" is an abstract concept, which may include or exclude numbers of material items. This ideal is confronted to reality: the profusion of collection objects has to be managed, and archivists are today compelled to sort out and throw away elements of the collection. "To save, we need to discard" (Frank, archivist at the film archive).

According to which criteria (affective, administrative, patrimonial, political, financial, aesthetic, historic) do archivists choose to preserve or destroy collection objects? In other words, which values are brought forward in the process of creating a collective memory - and thus selecting some parts of heritage to forget about? Which value hierarchy is prioritized in the constant move of artefacts inside and outside of the film archive, through processes of active conservation, exchange with other institutions, classification and throwing away of objects?

Panel P100
Collections as Currency? Objects, Exchange, Values and Institutions