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Peter Hulton

For Eugenio

From Peter

On Archive

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Architecture, arch, archetype, the arkhe. Derrida reminds us of this `structure of command'. There is, however, another meaning hidden in this Greek word arkhe - `a beginning'. Perhaps in order to begin, you must establish a first arc. It's important not to lose this sense of a beginning, always beginning..(n.b. Deleuze – how useful these French philosophers!) because that is in 'an archive' which is also anarchic, which is all beginnings. I call my project Arts Archives. I like the plural 's' on the end of archive. It disconcerts me, and others. An archive needs to be living ( “quicke” – in the medieval sense of the word – “the quick and the dead”)- not belonging to the order of the dead.

How to make a living archive – a quick archive - that is the question?

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I know as much about Beckett from having read and handled his letters to Jo in The Open Theatre Archive at Kent State University, as I do from books about him. To have an archive of actual 'things' is a real gift for people to come - though it takes enormous time and care to put together – but one beyond my ken.

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An archivist is first and foremost someone who loves and values what s/he is dealing with, and who wishes to make such things available to others, should they so wish. Often the work is long, detailed and laborious and the only thing that sustains someone through that is what I have just said.

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There's been a perceptual shift from analogue to digital - this is useful in so many ways, but has its dangers. All those records on VHS video tape need to be digitised. There is merit in keeping celluloid, but I see no merit in keeping VHS tape - a transitional phenomena in my view. Again much time is required to do this, and the correct technology. There is the danger of what is called `software migration' - when a piece of software moves on to become another piece, and the earlier one becomes out of-date - but I think DVD technology is settling down now and I don't believe this is such a problem as it has been. Some assets that are print or photographs can also go into digits - but a judgment has to be made here as to what best remains in its original state or not.

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Once the asset enters the digital realm, it's available for navigation and interaction and the most engaging arena for this, is the computer environment - not the DVD video for playback on the television monitor. I am going entirely for DVD-ROM archiving - here the viewer might comment, go on-line to internet reference points, consider and meditate - the greatest thing about a computer is that you can tell it to stop until you tell it to do otherwise. And an archive should be above all a space for meditation, for not knowing, and for coming across the unexpected.

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CD/DVD technology really is a miracle - cheap and personal. For the first time in our history we have the chance to document the moving/sounding image and consider it in the round. Performance history should never be the same again. Print can do certain things that audio/visual media cannot - but also the reverse is true. We are now in a position to discriminate out the qualities of what each medium can do at its best - and, perhaps more importantly, what they can do together. There are insights that can be gained from the conjunction of text and moving image that belong to neither.

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Moreover, and it's a thought not yet realized by many, DVD technology can be a continuing repository for the changing history of someone's / a group's development; that is, as an individual or a group works, on-going records can be deposited within one digital file and yet be called up at any time. The old fashioned idea of an archive as a final resting place can be turned into a looped feed-back system supporting particular active developments.

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However, this technology can be very invisible and any archive worth its an-archic salt will do everything in its power to 'visibilize' itself. How people get into it, how they move around it will have recourse to old fashioned posters and printed lists and lay-out and designed DVD covers just as much as they will have to hyper-linking indexes. And in all of this, there will be key words, recurrent terms which can be indexed – and in my view these should be the words of the contributors themselves – the artists, practitioners, analysts. The horizontal nature of hypertext invites a rhizomic, not arboresque or Thesaurian take on the language of the field (Merci, Deleuze ), and from such language, new beginnings.

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And any copyright belongs to such individuals or groups - and is held by the archive simply on their behalf. The law cannot keep up with what is happening in the image world. Is every passer by on a televised interview in the street required to give their permission? Of course not. Only the interviewed. We are recorded on CCTV cameras on average 15 times a day in England - have we given permission? Of course not. If the 'unique mobile' of the image - the person or the group - has given their permission and the copyright remains with them, then participants in the image are just that - participants. Perhaps they have been alerted to the fact that a record will be made, but often not. If any question arises at a later stage, which it rarely does if it is a not-for-profit project, which Arts Archives is - then the item is simply withdrawn. It's a 'snail withdrawing its head into its shell' policy, but, in order to continue. I think Brecht would have approved.

Peter Hulton. Exeter. 2005

Text and images reproduced courtesy of Peter Hulton.

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