Research Strand: Performing Memory

The Living Archives project is structured through parallel and complementary research strands: Performing Memory and Open Data. The Performing Memory strand of Living Archives is informed by an emergent area of research into dance and mobile technologies called mobile social choreographies, where an embodied and choreographic approach to the flows of people and data in urban environments is emphasized. Artistic Research methodologies relevant to this newly framed domain are largely phenomenological, rooted in improvisatory expressive practices.

A sketch of the field: Performance

Most work relating to archives from the fields of dance and performance are concerned with preservation in digital form of performances. Significant projects that critically challenge and expand the notion of digital archiving and performance include: William Forsythe’s Motion Bank, a research project focusing on the creation of online digital scores. This follows from his collaboration with researchers at Ohio State University called Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing. The Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen hosts the Performing Archives study group that investigate the theoretical and practical field between performance and archive through text reading and discussions. Professor Rachel Fensham at the University of Surrey (UK) has an initiative called Performing the Archive that includes creative, curatorial and critical projects. Project member Susan Kozel’s ongoing research in Social Choreographies is foundational for the Living Archive research. Her collaborative projects have used social media to explore performative aspects of daily life and have relied on dance and choreography to expand the functionality and use of mobile devices (IntuiTweet, Alone or Not, AffeXity, see Kozel 2010a, 2010b, 2012). Her many years of working at the convergence between dance and interactive technologies informs this current process artistically and methodologically (Kozel 2007, 2010c).

Research Strand: Performing Memory

The Performing Memory strand of Living Archives is informed by an emergent area of research into dance and mobile technologies called mobile social choreographies (Kozel 2010b), where an embodied and choreographic approach to the flows of people and data in urban environments is emphasized. Artistic Research methodologies relevant to this newly framed domain are largely phenomenological, rooted in improvisatory expressive practices.

THE BODY AND DIGITAL DATA – The body is frequently left out of research into digital data and archives, unless it is presented in the abstract as the body politic. With Living Archives research, “body” is almost always considered in the plural form as “bodies” in order to prevent a homogenization of physicality and experience. Bodies are living, breathing, multisensory, somatic integrations of biology, intellect, affect, imagination and memory. Performance is also rarely considered in relation to archives and open data, despite access to data becoming increasingly mobile and social. The act of performing does not just occur on stage: it includes social, pedestrian and spontaneous actions. Performative acts bring into being something that was not there previously, and provide scope to transform social codes, body states, objects, structures, attitudes or habits (Kozel 2007).

THE COLLECTED AND THE COLLECTIVE – Photographs, film/video, voice, and artifacts not only facilitate and inspire individual memories but also contribute to a collective perception of the past and the present. This demands that preservation becomes more collaborative, challenging the roles of audiences and archives and institutional borders. It also implies a public and transparent agonistic debate exploring the tensions between the collected and the collective (Young, 1993, 2000) The collected represents the changing and growing, and also the ephemeral, while the collective represents the attempt to make shared, unified and lasting. In a way, we may want both, to allow for sharing, but also for a democratization of public memory. All the tiny fragments are in focus, the seemingly trivial, the marginal, the fleeting. We will re-frame questions of the collected in relation to performance and explore the strengths and weaknesses of that increasingly used construct, some might say social media buzz-word, of crowdsourcing.

EXPERIMENT WITH MOBILE ACCESS TO ARCHIVES – The starting point for the Performing Memory strand will be to experiment with mobile access to archival material in urban contexts. The material can be viewed then modified, annotated or shared through mobile and social media. Beginning with archival material accessed by mobile devices running the Augmented Reality browser Argon, we will explore how existing archive material can be reactualized and how new practices of engaging with archival data might be fostered. For example, anybody with an iPhone or iPad running the free open-source Argon browser can walk through a city and approach a mark on the ground that acts as a real world “button”. This button has a geospatial tag associated with it so that visual imagery and sound can be downloaded to the phone. The camera function provides a direct view of the immediate location (without recording anything) and the archival imagery appears in a layer over the active camera function. The phone provides a glimpse into an alternate reality that is composed both of the immediate view of the world and the mediated view of the world. The past data feels personal as it resides on the phone and is carried in the pocket of the person who views it. New video images or sound can be taken and placed alongside the existing archival material, or the archival material can be sampled, remixed and uploaded to live alongside the originals. These are just an early sketch of performative potential: the research process will open the question of how an archive can be living and performative through workshops.

JOINING CONTENT SOURCES AND DATABASES OF INFORMATION – Two very different types of archives will be used and explored in this project. The first type are archives that have been created deliberately as content sources (if not necessarily for public access). The second type are databases of information (sometimes content, sometimes metadata) that have been collected on behalf of the public. These were often not created to facilitate access other than for a specific governmental purpose, which makes them more challenging to work with or to interrogate into services for end users. “Joining” these two will be one of the challenges for the project. The archival data may end up being visualizations or sonifications of the consumption of electricity, or the erosion of a coastline. The data may be an image of a simple gesture from the day before yesterday. Living Archives may take us back in time, into otherwise meaningless statistical data, or into a sort of shared imagination or dream space.

Read more about the other research strand: Open Data.

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