‘The archive is a record of the past, at the same time it points to the future. The grammatical tense of the archive is thus the future perfect, ‘when it will have been’.
Carolyn Steedman, Dust
Archives have their own glossary. It includes terms such as access conditions, access points, accession, accruals, custodial history, digital surrogate, embedded image, epithet, fonds, holograph, item-level, Persistent Unique Identifier, processing information, subfonds, weeding. These vocabularies describe activities that the archive requires, that the archivist conforms to. They map old and new practice.
To archive something is to bring it into a new visibility, while also withdrawing it from its former connections.
Photography is an example of a fragile archiving mode. It is vulnerable to environment. It archives something else as well as itself. In 2003, and still in the archive that is the web, Kodak warn of the ‘Airport Baggage Scanning Equipment Can Jeopardize Your Unprocessed Film’ and ‘Suggestions for Avoiding Fogged Film’.
The exhibition archive is what endures when a show ceases. It is also a basis on which we may later attempt the impossibility of revisiting that exhibition. The attempt sharpens and amplifies the arguments that make the exhibition relevant to the present.
The archive always also reflects on the archivist, or a history of archivists; It rarely exists on its own, which makes it a network of decisions, considerations and selections, a set of inclusions and exclusions.
The world's entire supply of accumulated stuff - data, recordings, materials, artifacts and traces in any form on any scale - either gathered purposefully and organised for study or preservation or else 'awaiting some future process' of such gathering and organisation.
The archive overwhelms with its declaration of presence, its promise of endurance. "This is here and it will remain here," it tells us. But what of all that did not gain entry into its domain of protection? As Foucault reminds us, the archive is always a matter of law: "The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system which governs the appearance of statements as unique events." For Derrida, it is the place of the archons, a site of authority and commandment. Any encounter with any archive must begin from here, from a reckoning with the power of law to exclude and shape. We must look beyond the archive's declaration of presence to consider the absences it occasions.
This place is not built to house the death of things. Knowledge bends space and moves in its own realm of reality. Memory is not fixed or finite.