Fragments from a future archive

Thompson, Matthew (2011) Fragments from a future archive. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This PhD introduces new ways to configure the archive as a source of knowledge. This is because it is based in an art practice whose field of interest is institutional critique which determines that knowledge is both contingent and uncertain as different social and political factors come into play. The project pursues a line of inquiry which absorbs the artist, where the artist is seen to affect and be affected by the materials of an existing archive. The inquiry produces new connections and layers of meaning in relation to the archive whilst exposing and recording the precise methods and motivations of the artist whose project is to re-imagine what an archive might be. This PhD project is triggered by a small act of transgression, where the artist manifests early intent by purloining a slide transparency from the archives of The Martin Luther King Memorial Library in Washington DC. This action determines the future trajectory of the project: a project which has its origins in the political and social upheavals in Washington during 1968; specifically in relation to Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign, the civil disturbances which followed King's assassination and the subsequent construction of the MLK Memorial Library which opened in 1972. The method of the inquiry is based upon the condition that the materials of the archive be extricated from institutional constraint and are re-deployed within an artistic practice, a practice which is situated in the present and is directly influenced by the effects and characteristics of the everyday. Consequently, archival materials are explored through a process of displacement and distraction, where a close examination of the oblique, mundane, arbitrary, overlooked and peripheral is brought into play.A future archive is imagined which expands upon previous models proposed by a number of artists emerging during the late 1960s such as Marcel Broodthaers, Mel Bochner, Robert Barry, Robert Smithson, Douglas Huebler and Allan Ruppersberg. The relevance of these artists' practices in relation to the field of knowledge that this project contributes to, is demonstrated in the manner in which specific histories are reassembled through a layering of past and present, fact and fiction, artist and subject. Equally significant is the way in which each artist employs documentation as a primary method and outcome within their practices. The project takes the form of an exhibition and several interconnected texts. The primary text 'Oriented Strand Board' (Section 2) employs a diary-like, first person narrative which unfolds over a single day. This text should be read first. Two accompanying satellite texts: 'Classified' (Section 3) - an expanded transcription from The Washington Post Classified; and 'Resurrection City' (Section 4) - a diary account by the late architect John Wiebenson - are meant to be considered during or after reading 'Oriented Strand Board'. In this way, official documents of the time are set next to a single day exposing the researcher's methods of placing disparate materials together to signal a resistance to certain or accretive knowledge. The 'OSB Manifesto' (Section 5) takes all the raw data from this Abstract (Section 1); i.e. the text itself, and reconfigures each word and punctuation mark in order to produce an alternative field of communication. A further text 'Viva Voce' (Section 6) accompanies the material described above. This additional text is a transcription from an audio recording of the Viva which took place om 25 January 2012 at Kingston University. The production and inclusion of this text serves to support and expand upon the transcribed material existing throughout the research. This PhD makes an original contribution to knowledge in the area of research into specific archives as it foregrounds the role of the artist researcher as protagonist within the research itself. The movements and preoccupations of the researcher embed themselves within an enquiry that conflates the historical with the imagination, where the bond between the author and research is exposed as one directly affected by the unfolding events of the present.

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