Online Community Archives

From XPUB & Lens-Based wiki

Lecture by Annet Dekker 13/11/2017


Required Reading:

  • Introduction of Lost and Living (in) Archives ed. Annet Dekker.
  • Engel, Deena, and Glenn Wharton. 2017. “Managing Contemporary Art Documentation in Museums and Special Collections.” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 36 (2):293–311.PDF download.

Introductory Text

Some people argue that the digital archive is an oxymoron (Laermans and Gielen 2007) or that it is more akin to an anarchive (Ernst 2002, Zielinski 2014). Derrida mentioned the word anarchive to signal those records that remained outside of the purview of the legal archive (1991, 419). Ernst relates this notion to the digital archive and describes how the anarchive is something that cannot be ordered or catalogued because it is constantly re-used, circulated, expanding and dynamic, and is thus only a metaphorical archive (Ernst 2002). Similarly, Foster (2004) describes how the ‘anarchival’ is about obscure traces rather than absolute origins, emphasising the incomplete which may offer openings to new interpretation, projects or documents, or ‘points of departure’. These various descriptions implicate that digital archives, and in particular Web-based archives, function less as a storage space and more as a recycling centre in which the material (the archival document, if one can still use this term) is dynamic. In other words, as many of these media theoreticians and critics argue, the default of digital, and particular networked, archives is re-use instead of storage, circulation rather than centrally organised memory, and enduring change versus stasis. This beckons the question how to understand, capture and archive all this networked data on the Web?

In this class we will focus on attempts that have been made to preserve online cultures. From large institutes that scrape content (Internet Archive) and invent new documentation methods (Rhizome), to ‘amateur’ examples (GeoCities), and artists that form their own ‘networks of care’ ( Whereas these attempts all manage to capture more or less the content, form and aesthetics, we will look into the question of how the context of online culture is captured or documented to serve the archival tasks of preservation and sustainable access. By analyzing these networked cultures and questioning whether archivists and conservators should shift their focus from conservation of records or materials to preservation of contextual information and relations, and whether they are the right person to do this, we will discuss how the less visible context of online culture is sustained. On the one hand this may confirm existing research that archiving is no longer an act connected with power of institutions and authority, but that there is a shift to audience members, users or participants that are actively involved in the preservation of online culture. Moreover these discussions may show how the different components in these networks have little individual value by themselves and only obtain meaning in relation to each other. Such relations can be traced and compared in time and characterize the context of online cultures. At the end of this class we hope to propose an archival approach that is focused on sustaining relations, to reflect the flexibility and mutation of how online culture is continuously created and constructed.