In the article Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive, Sue Breakellacknowledges how prominent archives have become over the past few decades. However, she attributes this prominence to the evolved meaning and nature of archives. Far from the traditional meaning, in which archives were solely kept by states and whose keeping was shrouded in secrecy and mystery, with the archived remaining static for as long as they are kept wherever they are kept. Rather, the meaning of the term ‘archive’ has grown more fluid, allowing it to apply in pop culture just as it does in art practice and theoretical discourse. In this meaning, archive embraces all kinds of objects, with the common theme being that such objects, whatever they are, are “gathered together and actively preserved” (Breakell 2). In this regard, the value of such an object no longer seems a major issue.
Because of this fluidity in the meaning of ‘archive’, and therefore what can be ‘gathered together and actively preserved’, Breakell (1) also notes the ambiguous feelings with which people receive archives. On the one hand is the notion of the importance of such archives, particularly the connections they harbor and how these connections reveal people’s (either as individuals or collectively as part of a community) lives. On the other hand, there is the fear that what is archived is but garbage. Besides, many question the extent to which an object in, say, a museum can tell the story of a people when it is taken away from the context where it is of true value, where it manifests itself in its true essence. This has to do with the issue of orchestrated archiving, in which case the process is used to manipulate reception among the audience.
The point of the article seems to be that the politics surrounding archives is too complex, which makes a resolution impossible. In conclusion, therefore, the article argues that the definition and/or nature of an archive are not important. Rather, archives are a reflection of who we are, which makes our response to them (the archived) more important that the archive itself, because it is this response that is ‘who we are’.
Response to Magid’s Project
I think that Magid’s story touches on the question of the purpose of archives. Many archives are meant to gather and preserve artefacts of a people, or maybe a person’s but with clear meaning and value to a people as a collective entity. However, in this case, The Proposal is about archiving the artefacts that only point to a person (albeit a prominent person), and the archive, at least initially, is located in a private home. The question then follows: to what value is the private life of a person (however infused with their profession) to the community (Mexicans) in general? The story also raises an important question on the audience for whom an archive may be meant and who decides whether or not, and when and how that archive should be presented to the audience. For instance, Barragan’s professional archive is kept away from the public. The strangeness of Magid’s project, as an archive of Barragan’s personal and professional life is that it does not use the actual items that belonged to Barragan, but rather uses them as inspiration for her artworks, which she expects would tell the story of Barragan from a certain light, depending on an audience’s perspective. But now one wonders if, in viewing Magid’s Barragan-inspired works, they are ‘interacting’ with Magid or Barragan. It seems to me that Magid diverts attention from Barragan, when her primary objective was to draw attention to him. In this respect, the archive has become detached from its primary subject.
Breakell, Sue. Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive, TATE Museum, Tate Papers No. 9, 2008.