Archives as Witness, Archives as Knowledge Systems

Archives as Witness, Archives as Knowledge Systems

Darpan 2021, Pune (online)

“Archives are the documentary by-product of human activity retained for their long-term value.”

This definition of archives is proposed by the International Council of Archives – a transnational network of organisations with 1900 member archives across 199 countries and territories. This definition, accepted internationally, is underpinned upon the idea of value. And yet, we are living in a world where the notion of value itself – across a spectrum, of things, objects and ideas, histories and cultures, even people – is being constantly questioned and revised.

Although State and institutional archives are historically considered institutions of preserving knowledge, counter-archives as artistic practice have increasingly challenged their method and value. Archives created/ generated/imagined within artistic research and practice still maintain a close proximity with the archival canon, through similarities in structure, terminology, and intent, but today archives are being transformed through digital technology. With a turn towards an increasingly participative and active engagement with archives, we can longer claim to have insufficient cultural data – we are overwhelmed with data. Simultaneously the rift between ‘the people’ and the ‘other’ is increasing, reflecting in data that is fragmented, disjointed, and out of sync – the tools that process our cultural data are getting bottlenecked, or perhaps a claim can be made that we have not yet learnt to harness the gifts of our tools. Our tools need to upgrade, and us with them.


In this presentation, I talk about the ways in which contemporary archiving within and as artistic praxis are siuated within socio-political entanglements, and how when viewed through the lens of being a 'witness', as bearers of histories or the truth of occurances, archives necessarily take upon the responsibility of becoming the testifiers to those truths. We discuss how archival structures, logics, and practices may be best formulated in order to provide us, and our archives the systemic agency to affect change.

This talk was presented during Darpan 2021, an event commemorating the first anniversary of Kari Magazine, an online arts magazine initiated by the students of the Symbiosis School For Liberal Arts (SSLA), Pune