Archival Projects

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5 stacked rows of rolled paper


Rebecca Noone, Artist and PhD Student, University of Toronto •

The banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual? [...] how are we to speak of these common things, how to track them down, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which why are mired, how to give them meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what it is, who we are.

-Species of Spaces

Admittedly, my work with the archive has been, for the most part, metaphorical. My work, inspired by Robert Filliou’s “good-for-nothingness,” embraces the hopeful but ultimately futile gestures of information management, articulated through acts of self-aware archival iconoclasm. My work scrutinizes our bureaucratized ubiquity through quiet exchanges and expressions that hinge on gestures of connection and co-creation. I have asked theoretical physicists how they cope with the mundane, compiled maps of hand-drawn directions collected from helpful passers-by, archived detritus in demolition-slated homes, built interactive library cataloging systems and bartered the periodic table of elements at art markets. 

These acts of generating documents can be read as a type of active archiving, since what they often aim to collect exists “out there” but still needs to be translated, represented or recreated in an archivable format. This sensibility parallels the work of György Galántai of the Hungarian project Artpool, who understands the process of actively archiving as “a love letter to the ephemera and to memory - a valorization of the things that are destined to disappear." This need to collect the fleeting and the ineffable was my initial frame for this discussion.

The Round Table brought together a great cross-section of archival sensibilities from artists, curators, programmers, teachers, academics, activists and people in the world, allowing us to map out a type of archival territory - we leapt from the sense of the archive as a concept to a place of practice, to a protected fortress of mystery, to an endless reality of piling documents. We were, ourselves, a collection of people who used the archive for research, people who worked in artist-run centers with the need to maintain a workable institutional memory, people who used archiving as a site of advocacy and activism and people who saw the archive as a space to actively generate anew.

To start, I asked participants to draw what they saw as an archive as a means to locate our discussion. I adapted this technique from the work of my doctoral supervisor, Dr. Jenna Hartel, who, since 2011, has been asking graduate students at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information to draw “Information,” “the Internet” and “Librarian” as a means to create new visual ontologies within the discipline of Information Studies.

Talking through our drawings, we meandered through the following course:

archive as site

archive as repository

archive as form

archive as concept

archive as death

archive as author

archive as metaphor

archive as something else altogether

We discussed the tensions inherent in being active in the archive and activating an archive, the generative possibilities of the archive and the ability to generate new archives. We thought of ways to play with power and the formation of knowledge, asking: what is the nature of the objects and subjects within the archive? How does the archive shape, erase, respond to and dig into our lives?

Ultimately, what we were asking was: How do we work with and about and around the weight of the archive that is at once built, maintained and controlled based on acts of consignment and power; yet also serves as an important trace of memories that need to be maintained, advocates for a multitude of voices and helps us articulate the present?

All the while, we sat in an archive of my own making - projects about collecting and generating advice from theoretical and experimental physicists, titled Cues For Living and Get On With It/I Know It’s Hard (Asking Physicists About Momentum).I developed these projects in March 2014 at the Nes Artist Residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. In conditions of weather-induced cloistering, I emailed theoretical and experimental physicists at some of the world’s top universities and research centers to ask: How do you negotiate the everyday while professionally set against the backdrop of infinity? I wondered: How do they study quantum physics, string theory or the multiverse and then negotiate the day-to-day? I received over ninety responses, which were left around the room for people to read: a collection of fragments of hope and frustration about getting on with it.


Filliou, Robert. Teaching and Learning as Performance Arts. Cologne, Germany: Verlag Gebrl König, 1970.

Galántai, György. “Active Archive, 1979-2003,” Artpool: The Experimental Art Archive of East-Central Europe. Budapest, Hungary: Artpool, 2013.

Hartel, Jenna. “An Arts-Informed Study of Information Using the Draw-and-Write Technique,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 65.7 (2014): pp. 1349-67.

Georges Perec. Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Translated by John Sturrock. London, UK: Penguin, 1974.