Anarchic Infrastructures

working title


book in development

Anarchic Infrastructures is an ongoing research project, which resulted in a series of presentations, symposium and an exhibitions in Amsterdam and Paris.  Anarcheology articulates an important moment within the practices of many artists whose gesture of displacing a variety of objects, operations and images that belong to the broader fields of anthropology, archeology, or industrial history into the field of art articulates the visibility of an infrastructure. Each part of the research project captures a tendency, or a distinct interest demonstrated by artists in their practices – the return to analog film and photography, the archival, and the interest in writing histories through and with images. Central to their works are questions as revealing the dormant potential and knowledge of image accumulations, the afterlife of photographic images beyond the archive, the complexities of the relationship between artworks and their documentation, the visual history of photography as analog medium. Many artists involve in their practises image collections, which can be understood as archival, in order to create artworks with and on the surfaces of older photographic images and investigate the relationship between image-surfaces. Variety of approaches to re-animating image collections in art practises gives them a new visibility characterised by opacity and materiality on the one hand, and on the other, creates saturated image spaces with the promise of transversal knowledge. In such practices photography is used not as a transparent and invisible medium, but as one that reflects on its own history and materiality. Such art practices don’t fall into the category of archival art in the sense that they don’t attempt to fix the omissions of history, but create micro-histories of media and modes of looking, an address the destiny of image accumulations in variety of forms (found images, private collections, archives). Photographic image accumulations often fall through the conceptual mesh of various historical disciplines. They are rather residues of archives with their function of preservation and ordering, and as a material have an anarchic aspect as  they open the possibility of multiple possible types of organization,  interpretation and knowledge. They remind that loss of organization and forgetting are also important and necessarily present aspects of the photographic image. Photography, being the medium of archives is also an amnesic medium. The meaning of photographic images is in a sense lost without their captions, and on another level, they are records or fixed traces, and precisely not memories. Image accumulations are not anti-archives or failed images. They reveal the potency of images to generate images and different kind of visibilities.

Aby Warburg’s seminal last project The Mnemosyne Atlas has been an object of many studies and sustained interest by many artists and curators. Significantly, artists who work with photographic images have re-visited the Mnemosyne in a variety of perspectives. Arguably, Warburg had an optimistic understanding of the medium of photography as allowing the creation of image constellations of photographic reproductions on a working table, and in its powers to reveal the visibility of a memory trace in a series of images. The artists’ practices I focus on (Alexandra Navratil, Sacha Pohle, Batia Suter, Rob Johannesma, Rosa Barba, Maartje Fliervoet, Suska Mackert, Yoeri Guepin, Adria Julia and others) approach image constellations a resonant with the Mnemosyne way, but they also investigate the memory function the photographic image on a different plane. Aware of amnesic aspect of photography, they reanimate accumulations of images that in some cases have lost their documentary weight and become photographic ruins, which pose question of the afterlife of the photographic image itself. Their work with archive or found material is characterised by specific sensitivity and awareness of its fragile nature determined by processes obsolescence of material media. While historians often select and define the singular visibility of photographic images to interpret them as evidence or illustration, artists have an approach to film archives, slides as used in history departments, industrial, ethnographic film, press images, as a material which is re-photographed, reused, re-montaged into a new works, which unfold as image-multiplicities. They pose critical questions related to looking, memory, empathy, forgetting. Such works invite to contemplate our empathy with images, the nature of (historical) experience of images and amnesia.

Photography and film are media with a manifold relationship to memory. They are at the heart of the definitions of concepts as document and evidence, regimes of visual attributions of truth, and the ever-growing visual archive of culture. Photography is an artistic medium in its own right with a complex history, but it has always been intimately related to art history as the medium for the reproductions of artworks, and as implicitly shaping the approaches and questions asked by art historians. It is also the medium of documentation of presentation of contemporary artworks and in many cases determines their public visibility. Digital photography redefines the visibility, the materiality and the destiny of photographic images and archives, and triggers constant negotiation of collective experience of images. What we now call archive is an object of continuous fluctuation and redefinition. Images at the present moment are increasingly defined and experienced as liquid, networked and allegedly immaterial. Also, they are public in a specific sense, in the space of the screen where public is not collective and private is almost an obsolete concept.

The research is supported by the Mondriaan Fund and LAPS/Rietveld Academy

Link to my LAPS research: