Curating an Archive

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A list of concepts and proposals which approach the archive process in a different ways

  • Donald Judd's Archive - Ordered by Birth Year
    • It is said that Judd's personal archives of books and catalogues about contemporary art were organised by the order of the birth year of the artist or writer
    • Donald Judd, 1983: "To begin at the beginning in a proper philosophical manner, one person is a unity, and somehow, after the long complex process, a work of art is a similar unity. But the person is fairly unintelligible and the art is intelligible. Primarily what is intelligible is the nature of the artists, either of the past or now. The interests, thoughts and quality of the artists make the final total quality of the work."
    • (Aside) Met someone who played a game in which he memorised the birth dates of a wide range of people and from time to time would try to make lists of people who lived at the same time at a single one year...
  • Tate + Pompidou's Link
    • Conversation series at Pompidou in which artists from different generations (30-40s meets 50-60s) with what the curators have perceived as similarities in their practices are asked to have a dialogue together about the similarities and dissimilarities in their work. Done to unintentionally hilarious effect when artists are 'conceptual' and suddenly unwilling to articulate their readings or views on the work as a form of performance of the work itself.
  • Seoul Museum of Art's Hidden Track
    • Show in which mid-career artists (50s-60s) were asked to consider produce works different to their current 'oeuvre'.
    • From the AAA website: "As the exhibition's title "Hidden Track" indicates, the show has been offered to the participating artists as a forum for experiment and amusement where they can try completely new styles of work, deviating from their signature idioms. Revealing each artist's hidden desire for creation, works on display will provide viewers with new aesthetics and unique spectacles through a synergy derived from the unexpected collisions of exhibited pieces"
  • Barbican's Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art
    • From Barbican Website: "Anthropologists from outer space set out on a mission to understand life on earth. Imagine that they begin their mission by examining the curious phenomenon that human beings call ‘contemporary art’. What does Art tell them about human life and culture? Believing these objects to have a real or functional use, the Museum’s curators deploy an eccentric classification system. They treat artworks as artifacts. The Martian perspective opens up contemporary art to fresh interpretations as well as humorous misunderstandings. In presuming to understand an unfamiliar culture, the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art parodies the way that Western anthropologists historically viewed non-Western cultures through alien eyes.
    • Curator's note: "The project is in part inspired by the first chapter of Kant after Duchamp by Belgian art historian Thierry de Duve, in which an imaginary anthropologist from outer space sets out to inventory ‘all that is called art by humans’. Since Martians do not have art as a defined category in their culture, they classify and interpret their chosen objects without the ‘knowledge’ we know as art history. Instead, they treat works of art as artefacts: objects which serve a function, whether real or symbolic.
  • Tim Etchell's Broadcast and other works at Mirrorcity, and his works in Forced Entertainment
    • From [ Mirrorcity website}: Over many years Tim Etchells has accumulated fragments of text, ideas, overheard conversations and cut-and-paste excerpts from newspapers and web pages in a ‘notebook’ – in fact a single sprawling word document. In this performance Etchells weaves together passages from his textual scrapbook to create unexpected dialogues, juxtapositions and ambiguous collisions. A Broadcast / Looping Pieces provides a window into Etchells’ creative process and his approach to text, as well as what he terms the ‘transformative power of performance’.
    • Polemic posters which reflect excerpts from reality, as if automatically mixed up by a markov generator in a computer, but actually painstakingly rewritten to sound at the midway point between naive and cruelly trolling the uninformed or uneducated. (I am reminded of Marinetti's Futurist Cookbook!)
    • See also: Certain Fragments
  • Exhibitions to show changes in time and space and understanding - about our perspective of objects changing over time:
    • Natural History Museum's Reconstructing the Dodo - there is a section about scientific reconstructions but focusing on debates on why and how people had wrongly reconstructed the dodo bird over time.
  • Exhibitions with pedagogic aims - about expanding people's understanding of objects and material history
    • Manchester Museum (Uni of Manchester)'s artefacts interspersed with video screens with interviews with children and non-specialists talking about what they thought the object was, followed by what they thought about later when they were told what the object was, and how they appreciated or liked it more (or hated it) after knowing what the object was used for in the past. This 'personal opinion' was followed by a professional or expert weighing in on the importance of the object after that.
  • Unfurling
    • Unfurling: “Never The Same has commissioned five artists and scholars to produce work that activates archival materials related to Chicago’s rich history of politically- and socially-engaged art.
    • One of the artists is Dan S. Wang who will produce a suite of new letterpress posters announcing imaginary future events that speak to the current and past worlds of Chicago critical art. See
  • Factory Records' Numbering System
    • Most of the things assigned in their record numbering system were records, but FAC191 was a cat which once lived in their basement.
  • Ranciere's Proletarian Nights



  • the goal should be to produce an archive exhibition which produces opportunities for new connections and collaborations
  • historical VS pedagogic / past+present direction vs FUTURE directions (orthogonal, ideally)
  • real vs reproductions / reimaginings

material/merch wishlist?

  • To produce a small 3d printed model of The Substation (exterior)
  • To produce a small 3d printed stackable / architectural model / interior of The Substation
  • To take a photograph of all the material stacked up in a pile in the Theatre, against the black box wall, spotlight on it from the top

Too Many Words

In his book titled The Future of the Image French philosopher Jacques Rancière writes: ” ‘Too many words’: the diagnosis is repeated whenever the crisis of art, or its subservience to aesthetic discourse, is denounced. Too many words about painting; too many words that comment on its practice and devour it; that clothe and transfigure the ‘anything goes’ it has become or replace it in books, catalogues and official reports – to the point of spreading to the very surfaces where it is exhibited and where, in its stead, we find written the pure affirmation of its concept, the self-denunciation of its imposture, or the registration of its end. ”

My work is to be 'read' rather than to be 'looked at'. Cheo Chai Seng, 126, Artist's Statement, in Cheo Chai-Seng: Thoughts and Processes, TK Sabapathy & Cecily Briggs


"Style" the last refuge of those who have been out-classed. I find the computer version much easier to extract the information, but the human version more pleasant to read. I'm inclined to vote for the computer version for financial news. One can be programmed to be unbiased and factually correct.


Defamiliarization or ostranenie (остранение) is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way in order to enhance perception of the familiar. See more -


The text of the memorial and the fact that I had left out everything except the names led to a fight about what else needed to be said about the war. The apex is the memorial’s strongest point; I argued against the addition of text at that point for fear that a politically charged statement, one that would force a specific reading, would destroy the apolitical nature of the design. Throughout this time I was very careful not to discuss my political beliefs; I played it extremely naive about politics, instead turning the issue into a strictly aesthetic one.

The memorial is analogous to a book in many ways. Note that on the right-hand panels the pages are set ragged right and on the left they are set ragged left, creating a spine at the apex as in a book. Another issue was scale; the text type is the smallest that we had come across, less than half an inch, which is unheard of in monument type sizing. What it does is create a very intimate reading in a very public space, the difference in intimacy between reading a billboard and reading a book.

Repetition of labour

Marx might have called this kind of work “estranged labor,” but the phrase isn’t quite right. My experience working in fine dining was marked by hard, repetitive and often meaningless work. But it wasn’t completely “estranging,” not at first. To the contrary, I found that hard, repetitive work, however “estranged” in some abstract or theoretical sense, could be incredibly affirming. Executing the same tasks with machine-like precision over and over and over again, like one of Adam Smith’s nail-cutters, offered a special kind of enjoyment. There was no reflection, no question about what my job required of me, and I could indulge, for hours, in the straightforward immediacy of action.

When someone spoke about the “swan” in lineup, a metaphor for the ideal server, churning tirelessly beneath the surface while maintaining the impression of absolute poise to the casual observer, there was never a hint from management that, like us, they understood the psychological dividedness their favorite symbol suggested.

You experience a special rush when your job is to project an aura of warmth and hospitality while maintaining an almost clinical emotional distance. It’s the thrill of the con. This pleasure in deception was suggested by another metaphor popular with upper management: lipstick on a pig. The key to fine dining, I was told by one manager, was to ensure that the guest never noticed the pig, only the lipstick. Guests wanted to believe the make-believe; they wanted to believe everything was perfect. But the moment someone noticed a minor imperfection — a smudge on the butter, a fingerprint on the fork — other imperfections would suddenly become noticeable, threatening the illusion we all worked to maintain.

But something happened after spending too many nights delivering four- or five-figure checks on silver trays. Estrangement did set in. I imagine pick-up artists experience something similar. You learn what people want from you, and, for a while, you get a high making all the right gestures: the perfectly timed joke, the wry smile. But, deep down, you feel nothing. Until something forces you back to reality again.

WHEN the guest falls, I’m standing at a credenza near the bar. It’s lunch. The dining room is full. I don’t see him go down, but he makes a loud, gasping sound before he hits the floor. We all know him. He’s a regular. He’s been to the restaurant maybe 150 times and always orders the same thing: double vodka on the rocks to start; first course lobster; second course duck; no dessert. Usually he comes with his wife, who freely complains about his diet. He tips well, and, like most regulars, he is generally considered to be a jerk. But now, as he’s lying there, his skin turning a kind of grayish-white, it is impossible to feel anything for the man who has just had a stroke in the middle of our dining room except pity.

He is lying on the polished terrazzo floor, flat on his back. People are staring, not quite sure what to do, their thoughts clearly teetering between concern and that other more ugly thought — I waited three weeks for this reservation and this is ruining my experience. Everything leading up to this moment has been so carefully orchestrated: the timing of the courses, the neat folds of each napkin, the levels of every water glass. But not this. The normally composed servers are visibly shaken. How can anyone sanely elaborate on the virtues of left-bank Bordeaux next to a body?

Impossible, I think, so I turn to my manager and ask: “What should I do?” I assume somebody has called an ambulance. The manager has just finished hurrying to push a Champagne cart in front of the possibly dead man on the floor, a lame attempt to hide him from nearby diners. Nothing in the service manual can tell him how to answer my question. This isn’t planned; the moment demands real empathy, real human understanding, and not the counterfeit variety he and I earn our living with.