Introduction to Issue #2: Counter-Archive
Cache Rules Everything Around Me
By Brett Kashmere
Over the past decade, archives have been blowing up in the world. And not because of those highly flammable nitrate prints, recently seen burning down the (art) house in Quentin Tarantino’s delirious WWII history-fuck, Inglourious Basterds. No, at a time when “access,” “platforms,” and “content” are the hot keywords, archives have accrued a new set of meanings and significance. The 21st century is an on-demand, database-dependent culture, where any image one’s heart desires is, we assume, a Google search away. Moreover, the Web 2.0 transforms once-passive users into active scavengers, as blogs, streaming video sites, and social media tools require an endless flow of extant material to comment upon, remix, and mash-up.
Likewise, international contemporary art is in the grips of an archive fever. In recent years, more and more artists have been messing with/in the archives, opening up dynamic possibilities for counter-archival practice. In this formulation, the “counter-archive” represents an incomplete and unstable repository, an entity to be contested and expanded through clandestine acts, a space of impermanence and play. Taken as an action, the term entails mischief and imagination, challenging the record of official history. Employed as an artistic strategy it pushes our archival impulse into new territories, encouraging critique and material alteration/fabrication, and emboldening anarchivism. To counter-archive is to counter-act, to rewrite, to animate over. Consider it a take-and-give thing… a negotiation. Against the un-Commons.
This issue aims at addressing practices of repurposing “found” materials in light of their particular histories and contemporary transformations in media economies and ownership. It proposes the archive as a site for creative intervention, one that enables new possibilities for preserving and representing individual memory within a larger historical consciousness. In this strange moment of image excess and commercial limitation (due to the increasing privitization of archives by multinational corporations), we can all become archivists and micro-analysts of our shared sociocultural experience. Equal participation in the constitution and interpretation of the archive is a key to counteracting the unseen hand of authority, and helps to invigorate successful content-sharing applications such as YouTube, Wikipedia, and Creative Commons.
INCITE #2 highlights several examples of innovative “counter-archival practice” (such as Jenny Perlin’s drawings based on a 1950s LIFE magazine article about the FBI, and Evan Meaney’s corrupted video files that tell the story of Claude Shannon, the father of modern data compression), at the same time delving into some of the issues and questions these practices raise, such as the preservation of “digital artists’ papers” and the ethics of downloading. And continuing a tradition that marked INCITE’s inaugural issue (“Manifest”), issue #2 once again offers a selection of manifestos and aesthetic statements. Tasman Richardson’s “JAWA Manifesto” outlines the key tenets of his unique hardcore editing style, while Julie Perini’s “Relational Filmmaking: A Manifesto” issues a recipe for a germinal method of media production as social practice. Ben Russell’s “CINEMA IS NOT THE WORLD,” meanwhile, uses the debunked mythology of film’s first public “airing,” in which an astonished Parisian audience flees from café screaming at the sight of shuddering locomotive, to reiterate the magic spell that this medium continues to cast on its viewers. In addition to these aforementioned tracts, interviews with Cory Arcangel, Aleesa Cohene, and Michael Robinson underscore the founding purpose of INCITE: to provide a forum for the most exciting media artists and film experimentalists working today.
We are also thrilled to include two pieces on the late, great Bruce Conner, who passed away while INCITE #1 was still in production: Amelia Does’ interview with Conner, which details his entry into collage filmmaking and his thoughts on his Canadian counterpart Arthur Lipsett; followed by an extended study of Conner’s brilliant, horrifyingly beautiful and underappreciated film masterpiece, Crossroads,by the avant-garde scholar William C. Wees. These texts illustrate another of INCITE’s primary ambitions: to establish continuity (and contingency) between the initial emergence of an underground cinema and its current evolution, by situating the present and the past in dialogue with one another. With this in mind, we’re proud to be publishing one of the first English-language scholarly essays on the overlooked film work of the Italian photo artist and filmmaker Paolo Gioli. Bart Testa’s insightful analysis of Gioli’s finely crafted cine-compositions contributes to a growing body of literature on this remarkable film artist, fashioned through “some bits chipped off” the French theorist Paul Virilio.
The issue ends, essentially, where it began (a film, after all, unreels as/from a circle), with a celebration of cinema’s unique properties disguised as a negation: Like their ethereal meta-cinematic performances, Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder’s FILM IS…NOT FILM pulses, flickers, and sputters across the page, distilling its subject down to a trance-like iteration of film’s irreducible qualities and contradictions. But this ending is also a beginning, opening to the second part of issue #2. Included within the printed version is a DVD featuring an international selection of contemporary films and videos that echo upon the “Counter-Archive” notion in a variety of ways, from Noam Gonick’s radical queering of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike; to Jessica Bardsley and Penny Lane’s audiovisual essay on the flight/plight/blight of the European starling and the hubris of its North American importer, Eugene Schieffelin; to Philip Widmann’s delicate treatment of found travel footage in Destination Finale. Finally, the video game I LOVE RESETS, by Chicago’s data-breaking duo I LOVE PRESETS, digs deep into the Internet reserve to construct an interactive mash-up of animated gifs, screen captures, and assorted web detritus, reminding us that a cache is a secret place where a store of things is kept hidden. Whether its contents are valuable or readily disposable, intentionally concealed or merely forgotten about, this “store of things” is the world we made, and the world we make from.
To paraphrase those inimitable cut-and-paste pirates, The Wu-Tang Clan: Cache Rules Everything Around Me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett Kashmere is a Pittsburgh-based filmmaker, curator and writer. He is also the founding editor and publisher of INCITE.