Bodies of Archives/Archival Bodies
Location British Museum - Stevenson Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 4


  • Giulia Battaglia (EHESS/Paris 3) email
  • Jennifer Clarke (Robert Gordon University) email
  • Fiona Siegenthaler (University of Basel, University of Johannesburg, Columbia University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

The ideas about the 'archive' as a static repository of history are being increasingly challenged in research practices and not sufficiently in anthropology. This panel calls for academic and artistic interventions that discuss objects, images and/or bodies as archives of experiences and processes.

Long abstract

The concept of the 'archive' had arguably received insufficient critical attention in anthropology until relatively recently despite its central role in research practices. However, recent work has highlighted the significance of archives for the future of anthropology (Kohl 2013), and ideas about the 'archive' as a static repository of history are being challenged. Interdisciplinary experimentations with forms of archive/archiving are increasingly emerging (cf. the anarchive) raising important questions about both the collaborative and processural nature of archives (Manning 2016).

This panel begins with the premise that archives, prone to decay, dissolution and re-arrangement, are permanently in process (cf. http://grapaub.org/en/archive/). This perspective enables us to engage with cleavages and links between past knowledge and future imagination, as well as the role of representation. Our interest is not limited to objects, but also to the idea of the body (or collective bodies) as archives of experience. In particular, we are interested in the archive's potential for collaborative artistic and ethnographic practices: What forms of collaborative work does the archive offer? In what ways can the collective sensibility of the archive be explored? What can we gain from a process-based notion of the archive? What implications does this have on the role of the archive in art and anthropology, and for the practices related to it in particular?

Through this panel we call for papers and art/media interventions that explore a variety of contemporary understandings of 'archive' that open up for individuals, groups and institutions possibilities to produce creative anthropological and artistic work.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Introduction to the panel

Authors: Jennifer Clarke (Robert Gordon University) email
Giulia Battaglia (EHESS/Paris 3) email

Short abstract

We will present a general introduction to the panel.

Long abstract

We will present a general introduction to the panel, framing the sessions and the papers within them, as well as our overall approach to archival bodies/ bodies as archives.

We might also be able to situate and discuss the role of potential artworks, or works of visual anthropology, etc, within the panel.

Fugitives: Anarchival Materiality in Archives

Authors: Trudi Lynn Smith (Simon Fraser University) email
Kate Hennessy (Simon Fraser University) email

Short abstract

This presentation draws attention to anarchival materiality, the generative force of entropy in archives. We theorize anarchival materiality through our oral history research with archivists and curators and parallel video and photography work in the British Columbia Provincial Archives, Canada.

Long abstract

In archives, issues of material loss are met with tools of resistance, ranging from simple freezers, to fire-resistant bunkers, to complex robotic systems. While loss is usually resisted by archivists, this presentation draws attention to anarchival materiality, or the generative force of entropy in archives. We theorize anarchival materiality through our oral history research with archivists, conservators, and curators and our parallel video and photography work in the British Columbia Provincial Archives, Canada.

We describe how non-human archives and their human stewards both constrain and enable preservation. Classification systems, spatial organization and human responsibilities are all fundamentally reshaped and determined by the uncooperative residents of archives, who constantly remind their caretakers of potentials in transformation. The anarchival force of molecular transformation, violence, displacement, and other human and non-human interactions render archival materials as fugitives, both eluding and driving preservation. Our presentation will draw on recent discussions of fugitivity in anthropology and photography to rethink and represent that which resists dominant structures (Berry, Chávez Argüelles, Cordis, Ihmoud and Velásquez Estrada, 2017; Campt 2012).

Through our video and photographic work, we explore the material agency of more than human archives to inquire how anarchival properties of archives reveal "sensuous enchantment" (Bennett, 2010) between humans and their worlds. Archives are not outside of us, not of the past or for the future; rather, they run alongside and in relationship with human beings. How might fugitives within archival structures reveal potentials in entropy?

Body Archives, Archive Corpus

Authors: Clothilde Roullier (Archives nationales de France / Université Paris-8) email
Nathalie Bourgès (CNDC) email
Milena Paez-Barbat (CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art ) email

Short abstract

Following the idea of an improbable symmetry between archives and creation, our purpose is to establish the way in which heritage, including aesthetics, is worked by its intense selection; art and archives feed on their own destruction, insofar as they result from elections and successive sortings.

Long abstract

Between 2015 and 2017, the National Archives of France, in collaboration with the laboratory « Arts des images et art contemporain » of the University Paris-VIII, the Centre national des arts plastiques (Cnap), the Centre national de danse contemporaine d'Angers (Cndc), and the École nationale supérieure d'art de Cergy-Pontoise (Ensapc), the research-creation project "Replay, restitution, re-creation ... For a typology of the rerun of archives", mixing scientists, archivists and artists determined to seize archival heritage bearing the trace of vanished artistic creations, in order to explore the modalities of a possible re-execution of the works.

The interrogation refers to archives as a trace and proof of the existence of a work of art, with the power to revive it when it is ephemeral, destroyed, stolen or forgotten. The object of study focused on the staging of bodies, from classical statuary to the implementation of the body in current performative practices.

Among all the actions undertaken, a corpus of archives has been made available to researchers and artists. It reflects a collegial and critical work questioning in an underlying way the evolution of looks of specialists and professionals focused on the history of their institution, the diversification of practices and the reuse of existing materials (http://replay.labex-arts-h2h.fr/content/corpus-replay). It is especially this work that we would like to present, since its results are now available for further research.

Haptic interventions as visual anthropology: Looking for a "Now-time"// Appropriating archival images and sounds

Author: Arine Høgel email

Short abstract

In this paper I discuss perspectives on appropriation of archival material derived from practice led research integrating theory and artistic production.

Long abstract

In this paper I discuss perspectives on appropriation of archival material derived from practice led research integrating theory and artistic production. An important claim will be how archival interventions in order to produce new experiences and meanings must seek to 'incorporate, absorb, critique and refashion' (Erl & Rigney 2009: 5).

Walter Benjamins idea of a 'Jezt-zeit' allow a view of the present as more than a mere passage between past and future. Benjamins's criticism of any causal-logical approach to history favors a view of the process of constructing the/a past as an act of appropriation (Benjamin 1998:168)

Working with 'haptic interventions' entail a method where the 'archivist/researcher' work as a 'participant observer'. It means focusing on the material presence of an object, and on the interaction itself as the site for the production of knowledge (Marks, 2000; Høgel, 2017).

The presentation will include excerpts from and discussions of case studies such as installations (e.g Passage, 2014, CCC/MOMU) and films ( e.g Voicing Silent Things (and people), 2018, CCC/MOMU) as well as a collaborative archival film project (in development) with Alyssa Grossman (postdoctoral research fellow, Critical Heritage Studies, University of Gothenburg).

Collisions of Memory, Voice, Sound, and Physicality though a Multi-sensorial Radio Remix Installation

Authors: Kwame Phillips (John Cabot University) email
Debra Vidali (Emory University) email

Short abstract

This paper addresses the collision of the tactile and the sonic, and discusses how sonic frontiers are exploited and transgressed in the "Kabusha Radio Remix," an ethnographic sound installation that repurposes archived audio recordings from the popular Radio Zambia program, Kabusha Takolelwe Bowa.

Long abstract

The ethnographic installation "Kabusha Radio Remix," repurposes Bemba language recordings from the archived audio recordings from one of Radio Zambia's most popular programs, Kabusha Takolelwe Bowa (a Bemba proverb meaning "The Person Who Inquires First, Is Not Poisoned by a Mushroom"). In the program, host David Yumba answered listeners' letters about politics, society, family, and current events, as they were read out aloud by co-host Emelda Yumbe. Central to the installation is a reengineered 60-minute Kabusha "radio program" that mimics its original format. This version, however, activates the archived voice of the late sage Yumba, juxtaposing Yumba's recorded responses as answers to present-day inquiries about politics, the technicalities of archives, current Zambian and global politics.

This multimedia paper addresses the collision of the tactile and the sonic, and discusses how sonic frontiers are exploited and transgressed in the engineered sound mix and via visitors' engagements with the installation, inviting visitors to "encounter voices and images from the past in a technological space that is both historical and contemporary" (Stoller 2015). Archives typically operate as "assertions of authority… producing and enforcing encoded pasts" and exist by nature as "incomplete utterance [where] its success requires the absence of memory" (Campbell, et al. 2015). This multimedia paper addresses how the installation counters this absence by reinforcing a connection to historical memory and works as a digital hypertext to analog ephemera, and how issues of subject agency, immortality, translation, wisdom, ownership, truth, and the media-democracy relationship are thrown into bold relief.

Transforming Records: Poetic Becomings in the Archive

Author: Kathy Carbone (California Institute of the Arts) email

Short abstract

This paper discusses the collaborative archival poetry-making of poet Kaia Sand, whose work offers new ways of understanding how artistic use of records can produce novel relations and illustrates some of the ways in which bodies can perform—interpret, manifest, reinvent, and transmit—archives.

Long abstract

The archival record, by being put to new uses and subject to different interpretations over time and space, is "always in a process of becoming" (McKemmish, 2001). Contemporary archival art practice, in which artists engage records to reconsider historical narratives; expose silenced or missing voices; investigate relations between official and personal memory; or, create new stories, brings to the fore such becomings of the record as well as how the archive is a place of embodied experience that forms vital links between past, present, and future motion of bodies (e.g., human bodies, bodies of knowledge, organizational bodies). In this paper, I draw upon my ethnographic study of an artist-in-residence program at the City of Portland Archives and Records Center (PARC) in Portland, Oregon, USA (2013-2015) as well as engage archival theory, "relational aesthetics," (Bourriaud, 2002) and performance theory to contemplate the collaborative archival poetry work of investigative poet Kaia Sand, during her residency at PARC. In particular, I focus on the creation and various transmissions of "She Had Her Own Reason for Participating," a poem Sand created through her experiences working with police surveillance records related to women activists. The poem comprises inscribed copper plates, an accordion fold book made in collaboration with a visual artist, and a performance by Sand and one of PARC's archivists. Sand's archival interventions offer new ways of understanding how records can inspire and produce novel relations and illustrate some of the ways in which bodies can perform—interpret, manifest, reinvent, and transmit—archives.

When Silence Speaks - Visual Art & Anthropology: Bodies, Memories, Archives & Performances.

Author: Johanne Verbockhaven (University of Louvain/ University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

This contribution is based on my Phd research in Art & Anthropology, leading together an art practice (visual art & "performance") with a theoretical writing involving notions of Memories, Traces, Archives, Environment, Lanscapes and Bodies. Based in Iceland.

Long abstract

The discussion on "bodies & archives" will be based on 3 aspects :

- My body as an archive : implying notions like "Performance, Performativity, creativity like a knowledges's foundation" :

Based on my hikking experience as an visual artist to connect one fjords to other without any roads into the icelandic mountainous area remote and deserted. My body experienced the performance by teaching me my limits creating a virtual archive of my own body/soul. Haunted by my childhood memories sedimented into it, I collected the traces from past history about area to create a unique archives based on elders's memories and landscapes traces. Knowledges founded on a weaving mode by ways and returns between practicing and theorizing.

-Elder's bodies as archives : implying notions like "Performativity versus Productivity and personal narratives" : Elders's childhood memories create an alive but uncertain archive, designing a memory constantly moving and narratives from their past history also their culture. As a specific farming's type implying a body performance as climbing into the cliffs for eggs's gathering or sheeps's grazing into the mountains. How the mountainous environement created for the teenagers a self-perception of performing and memories based on bodies performances.

-The Absence : Considering archives into the concept "image-memory" (Ricoeur 2013), we will discuss the reconstruction of some elders's memories into images by that way allowing a symbolic re-inscription of the person into the place it were constrained to abandon. The archive becomes a way a healing the trauma of exile and abandon : "How to continue to be present where we are absent ?" (Amar 2008).

At Dalits' Feet: Archival Resources of Counteraction

Author: Anna Laine (Swedish National Heritage Board) email

Short abstract

Dalit bodies are archives of structural violence and discrimination based on caste. Through a process-based notion of the archive and close attention to Dalit counter-forces, the current artistic/anthropological project addresses potentials for increased epistemic and social justice.

Long abstract

Within South Asian groups and communities, also at their diasporic locations, lives are implicated by caste. This hierarchical system has been legitimized through Hindu Brahminical scriptures where the social structure is rendered analogue with a bodily order in which feet and Dalits (as shudras) are placed lowest and defined as impure - a system reproduced by ritual designs and practices where people of subordinate positions revere the feet of their superiors, and enforced by British interventions and racialisations during the colonial era. In scholarly discourse, structural and 'transactional' understandings prevail: the Dalit has been opposed to the Brahmin, and voices of the latter emphasizing a holistic approach have been dominant.

The presented project complicates the current order by focusing on Dalit feet. It aligns their subalternity with the paradox embodied in Euro-American museum archives: being controlled by organisational devices of typologies, taxonomies, and sharp binaries while at the same time holding a fragmented chaos that enable critical investigation, refigurations and expanded knowledge making (Hamilton and Skotnes 2014). Dalit bodies as living archival sources have thus conjointly shaped multivocal photographs of their feet during encounters based on extended fieldwork in Tamil Nadu and within the Tamil diaspora, a way of working that engages with collaborative and processual aspects of archives (Manning 2016). By inviting the audience to sit at Dalits' feet, the photographs challenge past and present casteism and propose new imaginations of Dalit futures. As inquiries towards social justice, the photographs in turn bring new knowledge into existing archives.

The dancing body as living archive

Author: Claire Vionnet (University of Bern) email

Short abstract

This paper will consider the notion of living archive applied to the body. What do we understand when we talk about the body as archive? An archive of what exactly? And how can we understand the process of archiving related to the body?

Long abstract

In this paper, I will show how the dancing body tells stories of encounters: when a soloist dances on stage, (s)he is dancing with the shadows of all the other bodies (s)he met, danced with and touched. All these bodies left traces on his/her dancing skills. The dancing body embodies all past stories shared with others. Therefore, I will argue that the body is a living archive, still in movement, continually in transformation into new forms of being. Rather than archive as static repository, I will argue that the body is an archive in motion that provides knowledge (Gehm, Husemann and Von Wilcke 2007).

As an anthropologist and dancer, my body carries the souvenir of dancing and ethnographic experiences. My body is shaped by past performances, dancing skills and encounters with dance pedagogues who taught me. With the example of my own dance apprenticeship and the support of dance studies which developed the concept of archive (Taylor 2003), I will explain what I precisely understand with the body as living archive. Photos, videos and bodily exercises will be used as illustrations.

Finally, I will compare the dancing experience with the ethnographic practice. The body of the anthropologist also carries past experiences involving encounters. In which sense could we consider the body of the anthropologist as a kind of living archive? Maybe even more than the ethnographic account, the body of the anthropologist is the trace of embodied fieldwork.

Bone Work: The Leib as Archive

Author: Christina Lammer (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna) email

Short abstract

The human body is a rich archive of knowledge and remembrances. History is inscribed in the Leib (living body). I use my own body and its parts to reflect on medical culture and the meaning of archival bodies in surgery. The result of my explorations are analogue and digital movies and resin casts.

Long abstract

Bones need resistance. Surgeons who operate on the skeleton exercise their physical capacity to the full. For me, these operations are difficult to watch. I like to trace a situation in which I found myself during the first orthopedic operation that I observed - a total endoprosthesis of the right hip. I attended the proceedings and had difficulties, emotionally and on the level of representation, to film the surgery. Close-up images of operating hands appeared on the viewfinder of my camera as utterly brutal bloody scenarios. Today I realize that my perspective in those days is the result of my own affliction: I need myself artificial hip joints. Recently my left hip has been replaced. I am still recovering from the operation. A medical student had photographed the procedures for me. My orthopedic surgeon gave me the femoral head that he had removed from my body, in order to use it for my artistic research. Bone work. In the meantime, I have made fifty colorful resin casts of my bony remnant. I explore my hip bone and the photo documentation of the procedures as archive of experiences. Formerly located in the centre of myself. Cast making is a fascinating method. All about skin and touch. I am particularly interested in the interaction of sculpture and surgery. Working on the bone and with the photographs, making casts, drawings and a 16mm short movie of the preservation process, is emotionally demanding and peculiar. However I enjoy the tacit playfulness that is involved.

Anarchiving the personal: intimate provocations in Zanele Muholi's Somnyana Ngonyama series

Author: Leora Farber (University of Johannesburg) email

Short abstract

This paper explores how, in her Somnyana Ngonyama series (2012-2017), Zanele Muholi uses her body to activate a range of formal strategies that disrupt, refigure and unsettle the (colonial) ethnographic archive. These provocations are considered as a 'body of personal experience'.

Long abstract

For South-African photographer Zanele Muholi, the archive is not a material repository or source of a singular 'history' recounted from a position of 'neutrality', but a contested subject and medium in itself. In her practice, she presents 'contemporary refigurations' of the ethnographic archive. These refigurations include use of strategies such as deconstructing colonial photographic archives, exposing their internal constructions by playing with, appropriating, and subverting their tropes and imagery; re-examining histories in ways that prise open possibilities for alternative constructions of identities, subjectivities and agencies; scrambling hetero-normative identities in ways that introduce models of subjectivities which destabilise fixed positionings within racial and gendered dichotomies; deploying formal strategies such as pastiche and parody in ways that offer fresh perspectives from which to re-look at histories; and the creation of new anarchival forms. She also foregrounds photography's role in constructing identities and subjectivities in colonial and contemporary contexts, highlighting how the presence of the camera impacts on ways in which those imaged are represented and positioned.

I explore how Muholi activates these strategies in her Somnyana Ngonyama series (2012-2017). In this provocative series of self-portraits, Muholi can be said to use her own body in ways that give rise to an 'archival body of personal experience'; the images act as provocations in which "the inherited iconographies of ethnicity and sexuality are simultaneously performed and deflated and signs of modernity and indigeneity are intentionally and subversively blurred".

(Garb, T. 2011. Figures & fictions: contemporary South African photography. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl/V&A Publishing: 17).

The Body in the Archive: Embodiment, Storytelling & Human Remains

Author: Gemma Angel (University of Oxford) email

Short abstract

Historical museum collections of human remains present a unique challenge for historians and anthropologists alike. More than simple 'objects', these artefacts retain a loquacious 'subjectness', whose complex entanglements with living bodies continually reshapes their afterlives in the archive.

Long abstract

During the 19th-century, collecting and the assemblage of archives went hand-in-hand with the emergence of modern disciplines. In the case of anthropology, forensic science, and medical collections, the human body itself was collected alongside other material artefacts. This paper presents a case study of interdisciplinary archival work carried out on a unique collection of human remains: 300 European dry-preserved tattooed human skins held in storage at the Science Museum, London.

Originally acquired by the Wellcome Collection from a Parisian physician in 1929, these artefacts blur the boundaries between subject and object, and present a particularly rich resource for the study of European tattoo iconography, the material culture of medicine, the history of criminal anthropology, and museum ethnography. Lying at the interstices of four disciplines - anthropology, art history, medicine and forensic science - the tattoos are encountered today through the embodied day-to-day practices of curators, conservationists and researchers.

In the absence of related archival documentation, this paper explores what can be learned of their biographies, purposes, and shifting meanings, through primarily ethnographic, sensory and material methodologies. As both fragmentary remains and fragmented collection, the role of imaginative storytelling is foregrounded in the process of excavating their histories in the present-day archive. These stories trace both their enmeshment in contemporary political and ethical debates surrounding human remains in the museum, and demonstrate their multiple and fluid character over time, creating in the process a new instance of their afterlife.

Minor Intervals - The Noncitizen Archive and Jurisgenerative Poetics

Authors: Christian Rossipal (New York University) email
Jelena Jovicic (Stockholm University ) email

Short abstract

The Noncitizen Archive is a recently founded project for transversal, 'stateless' media. As a case study, it raises fundamental questions about the archive as a locus of nation-state sovereign power. Is there potential for the noncitizen to (an)archive a dissensual claim to the common?

Long abstract

In Archives of the Insensible, anthropologist and media scholar Allen Feldman argues that the noncitizen (stateless, refugee, sans papier) Other not only co-constitutes sovereign Man and the nation-state through an inclusive exclusion, but that that the body of the Other also serves as an "archival support" that "constitutes the unity, the presence of a sovereign subject to itself in a political economy of attention/retention." (189f)

We are interested in what happens when the noncitizen subject reverses this logic in and by (an)archiving the performance of a dissensual claim to the common (Rancière) and the right to have rights (Arendt). That is to say, what happens when the noncitizen appears in public through resistant, tactical modes of performance (de Carteau), despite being the "part of no part" in the life of the polis? Moreover, what happens when such performances are re-circulated and given new liveness through archival techniques and anarchival processes (SenseLab)? Is there a potential for opening up a zone of indistinction and undecidability that traverses the rupture between the human and the nonhuman human? Is the collective (an)archival process an opening toward a "non-sovereign meeting" that does not rely on speciation of the Other for self-speciation?

This paper is an investigation into these questions, grounded in our joint research, fieldwork, and long-time collaboration with the activist-collective Noncitizen. Drawing on Seyla Benhabib's jurisgenerative principle (2006) and Jürgen Hamacher's notion of the euché (2004), we will attempt to plot noncitizen collective archiving as a practice in excess of biopolitics.

For lack of Institutional Memory: Archiving as Artistic Practice in Singapore

Author: Nora A. Taylor (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) email

Short abstract

This paper examines the Singapore Art Archive Project founded in the 1980s and managed by artist Koh Nguang How (b. 1963) a trove of thousands of documents pertaining to artistic events that took place in Singapore prior to the establishment of museums.

Long abstract

For the past 25 years, artist and independent research Koh Nguang How (b. 1963) has been photographing, recording and collecting newspapers and documents pertaining to art events in Singapore. Inspired by the creative spirit initiated by artist Tang Da Wu (b. 1943), Koh followed the community of artists clustered around the Artists' Village with a camera and a tape recorder in part to counter the absence of art institutions in a country that paid little attention to contemporary art until the mid 1990s. In the fall of this year, the soon to be inaugurated National Gallery of Singapore, has offered to purchase Koh's archive of Singapore Art as a "work." Koh's archive is of scholarly interest for several reasons that go beyond the content of the archive proper. For one, it poses an ontological question, that is, what exactly constitutes this "work" that Southeast Asia's largest museum is acquiring? For another, it prompts reflection on the institutionalization of artistic practices that were once marginalized by the very type of institutions that is taking possession of it. What does Koh's archive then say about the writing of art history?

The body in the archive: Iraqi archives in exile

Author: Rebecca Whiting (University of Glasgow) email

Short abstract

During the 2 Gulf Wars, substantial collections of official records were displaced from Iraq. The body exists in the archives as the subject of state violence. Through displacement, new interactions with the records have occurred; bodies have left traces and in turn been impacted by the papers.

Long abstract

This paper considers the impact of interactions between bodies and records, looking at the looted Iraqi archives and the processes they have endured through conflict, movement and exploitation for evidence. The records were displaced due to the data they contain, as potential evidence of abuses against the body. This project, however, considers their materiality and explores their history as physical collections, focusing on the information they convey above that printed on the page. The record is examined as an object that carries a history and that in turn has been an agent of history, impacting those that have interacted with it.

In every stage of their lives as an archive, the collections of records have experienced interventions and reconstitution; as the archives have evolved, new interactions and new readings have taken place.

Drawing on material culture and postmodern archival theory, this paper uses interviews with human rights workers, archivists and researchers who have worked with collections of official Iraqi records to explore the impacts the archives have had in their displacement - politically, emotionally and materially.

Understanding archives as perpetually in process means allowing for the reality that they will be experienced in changing ways and new meanings will be generated at the various stages of the archive's biography. The Iraqi archives in their exile, displaced from the hands of agents of the state, passing from armed fighters through to diplomats and human rights workers, demonstrate the evolution of an archive a both an object and agent of history.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.