During a residency at the Arab Image Foundation I looked at several photographic collections that, in different ways, reflect the city of Beirut and its links to both the Arab and international photo-visual culture. This initial artistic research resulted in several photobooks that were published by Beirut-based PlanBey publisher, and an accompanying exhibition at their Makan Gallery (September 2015). This installation, titled Torn Folded Curled, reflected the impact of the civil war in some of the collections that came to the Foundation already damaged - photographic materials rescued from heavily bombed sites around Beirut and Lebanon.
In contrast to this kind of dusty paper-based materiality, I also became interested in the Foundation’s online database, both the textual taxonomy and its digitised photographs. Opening myself to chance, I let myself be guided by the intention to find something sleazy or sexy - photographic material with a twist… that might be troubling the archive. I typed in the database search fields the word ‘sexuality’ and found no sexuality in the archive, but found ‘sex’, as well as ‘body’, ‘nudity’, ‘breast’, ‘leg’, ‘bedroom’… Overwhelmed by the joy of corporeal indexicality, they are already digital archaeology. They are a testimony to an out-dated bureaucratic classification system of French colonial legacy, soon to disappear under the auspices of a new open access database to be implemented at the Arab Image Foundation.
SEX’N’DATABASE: A CORPOREAL TAXONOMY featured as comissioned photo-essay in
Membrana magazine 3
Cabinet issue Collecting Photographic Images
Collecting photographic images has for long stirred both interest and imagination of photographers, artists, photographic theorists, just as it did those of information loving intelligence officers, flea market loving amateurs and free market loving entrepreneurs. Contemporary proliferation of image production and sharing seems to have only intensified the practices of collecting, appropriating and curating of found, already existing images. The resulting amassments of images – either in forms of personal albums, institutionalised collections, server farms of social networks or archives of state institutions – are also amassments of narratives, of projections about societies and individuals, of attempts to limit the mere potentiality and contingency of meaning. In particular it was the archive – as a concept, a distinctive repressive social apparatus, and as a pool of (in)accessible images – that has for long been a focal point of theoretical and discursive contestations, creative artistic practices and critical appropriations. Membrana #3 reinvigorates these discussions from the perspective of ubiquitous photography and re-politicisation of social life in post-democratic societies through the metaphor of cabinet. For us, the notion of the cabinet has multiple meanings and can be seen as a bureaucratic image storage and retrieval system, an image display surface, a desktop icon or an Wunderkammer-ish collection of wonders and curiosities and can be approached literally or metaphorically.
Editor: Jan Babnik
SEX’N’DATABASE: A CORPOREAL TAXONOMY is part of
Activating the Archive online exhibition
curated by Alejandro Acin & Isaac Blease
PH museum July 24- Sept 24 2018
Activating the Archive presents the work of 10 artists that explore and question the malleable nature of visual archives and the many ways that they can be activated through contemporary practices.
Archives hold the promise of continual exploration, however, before embarking on this quest we must first understand them as places for construction rather than sites of excavation. Perhaps this notion of potentiality is the reactive force guiding artists around the often-hampering hand of official archival procedures. Within this exhibition the work of 10 artists highlight the malleable nature of visual archives, and the many ways that they can be activated through contemporary practices.
Themes such as, preservation, restoration, and organization, are usually central to discussions around the archive, yet the works displayed here attest to the equal importance of creativity and the freedom of use. Despite sharing an archival underpinning, these works are all strongly unique, and detail the myriad of ways that this material can approach universal subjects through artistic intervention. In turn, our understandings of photographs, why they are archived, and ultimately how they can be used is further expanded.
In the Tate paper, Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive, Sue Breakell describes how “an archive is now understood to mean anything that is no longer current but that has been retained”. How and why photographic collections are retained is often based on a slippery encounter shrouded in subjectivity, which in turn further complicates our understanding of what constitutes an archive. In some cases within this exhibition, the act of retainment is orchestrated by the artist them self through acts of archival salvage from sites such as, flea markets, rubbish dumps, or simply the street.
However an archive is formed, activation is the key to new readings and new directions. All of the works encountered here are testament to this endeavour where the artists are inventing archives, performing the archive, connecting archives, creating online archives, and re-imagining personal archives.
This online exhibition is part of the current IC Visual Lab programme Activating the Archive, which has included a symposium, workshops, talks, and an upcoming artistic commission. These events have been ongoing over an eight-month period and are supported by the Arts Council of England.
curators: Alejandro Acin & Isaac Blease