Cyber archive is a curatorial framework inviting the reader to consider the Archive, as a narrative, a repository, a state-tool, a fact, a fiction, both as a site and trope for artistic inquiry and art production; to define our protagonist: the User (of the Cyber Archives) as an artist/curator/archivist, a combination of a historian, researcher, performer, participant, interventionist, collaborator, urban denizen, and spy.
The thesis is presented as a cyberpsychogeographical archive situated in and as a cluster of cyber relations, here.
Thus, it performs its own validation by actualising the possibilities of non-linear and cyclic time that are the relevant ‘features’ of a metadata-driven, hyperconnected archive that resides in cyberspace and uses a digital interface. It provides a framework for asking a series of questions. If an archive may have several meanings, then this archive is also an archive of questions one may have, or should have, about archives. Questions sustain a critical perspective of both praxes and research, and so if an archive has no end, this archive may be an ongoing process of archiving questions till the very end (of archives).
Cyborg Archives: Can Archives Speak?
Performance directed by Ali Akbar Mehta and performed by Ganesh Totekar
Cyborg Archives: Can Archives Speak? is the fifth in a series of five performance and participatory installations, as part of the culmination of my residency at TIFA Working Studios
Can Archives Speak? is performed by Ganesh Totekar, and the performance was conducted at TIFA Working Studios in the exhibition ‘Assembly of Access’, curated by Vidisha Fadescha, 2018.
Cyborg Archives: GarbageInGarbageOut, TIFA Working Studios, Pune
Performance directed by Ali Akbar Mehta, and performed by Luv Mehtani
GarbageinGarbageOut is the fourth in a series of five performance and participatory installations, as part of the culmination of my residency at TIFA Working Studios.
Members of the audience were invited to participate ‘in the archive’ by interacting with the simplified manifestation of a cyber] archive through a series of controlled statements and requests. ‘The archive’, in this case performed by Luv Mehtani, was bound by a scripted introductory and closing statements, and with instructions to invite questions/statements from the audience.
GarbageinGarbageOut is performed by Luv Mehtani, and the performance was conducted at TIFA Working Studios in the exhibition ‘Assembly of Access’, curated by Vidisha Fadescha, 2018.
Cyber Archive: Being and Doing Knowledge
MA thesis, Aalto University, 2018
The thesis is framed through the question: How can ‘archives transformed by the use of digital technologies’ be studied within the framework of ‘Cybernetic relations’? What are the parameters of this study – its historic and technical vocabulary, socio-political roots and ethical considerations that shape these relations – and what are the implications of this practice?
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 – we need to make another beginning. ‘Cyber Archive’ studies archives within the framework of Cybernetic ‘Relations’ – in the context of hyper-connected data-driven networked societies; as cyborgs (networked individuals) in cyberspace (networked space); as cybernetic containers of accessible, meta-tagged, cross-referenced, non-linear, transmedia data – as observable systems that span several existing social and professional platforms to create a self-sustainable data multiverse. Through Cyber Archive as a system, we may be able to harvest meaningful data that represents to us as artists, a location of culture. ‘Cyber Archive’ is explained simultaneously as a technical term (concerned with archival technology); as well as a political term (concerned with the socio-political ethics of archiving). The process of defining this term is instrumental in arriving at a method and purpose for why must Cyber Archives be considered a meaningful praxis, beyond traditional methods of both archival canon, as well as archives within artistic practice. Our pedagogy, scholarship, and disciplinary identity are inextricably bound up in the Cyber archives we use today and design for the future. It offers practical tools, ‘gifts’ and methods to navigate this network, and establish conclusive models towards methodologies for Cyber Archives as artistic practice – creating Knowledge Communities, Cyber public zones of contact and Para-Institutions.
- artistic practice
Archiving Knowledge, sculptures
Cyber Archive: Questions
How can ‘archives transformed by the use of digital technologies’ be studied within the framework of ‘Cybernetic relations’? What are the parameters of this study – its historic and technical vocabulary, socio-political roots and ethical considerations that shape these relations – and what are the implications of this practice? Why Philology? Does a good administrative memory serve as the foundation of all other societal memory making? making sense of what? Does artistic praxis consider the archive as a machine? As a vessel? As a precision instrument? As a source of ideas? As a vehicle for expression? How does such practice discipline the archive? Is one archive asked to compete with another? To support another? To partner another? What are the other active functions that archives do and can perform? Is it possible to formulate a singular theory of Archiving? Or has archiving already become some kind of a new ‘monster’? Aren’t there multiple theories about archives? Can theory operate at that kind of distance from either method or subject matter? Is it possible to encompass the depth of archival practice within a singular cohesive system of theorisation? What would the function of such a committed theorisation be? What would be the methods of arriving at such theory, or what forms of knowledge could we refer to in order to create a technological and political ground? Would it be a spectacularly heroic figure – from the ranks of Gods and Goddesses, demigods or their agents imbued with supernatural powers? Or some other form of divine intervention? Or can we hope at least now to imagine another kind of a hero(ine)? What are the characteristics of Clark Kent? But the question is, who will perform this scrutiny? Who still assumes this position of power? Or will we fight amongst ourselves, each struggle to be heard? What does this mean when we think about the processes for developing a system of understanding the Archive? What is this thing? What does it do? What can it do? Can going back to philosophy help us? Does it constitute as an act of creating a hybrid space, when one goes back to it after such a long period of time? Is it home still? Can the cybernetic relationship between system and agent be also understood as a cyberpunk process? What does this process entail? Will cyberspace promise privacy or access? Will it enable a free culture or a permission culture? Will it preserve a space for free speech? Was does it mean for us as cyborgs – us who are inextricably linked to the cyberspace through stratified layers of digitised embodiment and meatspace disembodiment? What is to be done? At which stage do we choose to exclude – the inevitable act of exclusion? At which stage do we define ‘We the People?’ Who really are ‘the people’? What operation of discursive power circumscribes ‘the people’ at any given moment, and for what purpose? What has really changed? How do acts and expressions of individuality curb our synchronisation with others? And Why? What does better mean? Who are we? What is the law? How can we propose an alternative? Is it even possible to simply leave dominant knowledge behind? What side are we on when [we] teach, educate and act? What side are we on when we learn and act? What is it that we learn, how do we learn it, and what do we communicate once it is learnt? What is the point of power if it is not used in the service of working against power? Do we dismiss the privilege of others in the face of our own perceived privilege? Do we become blind to the trappings; not only of power, but a binary barometer of fixed standards that measures privilege in accordance with, or through contestation against a learnt notion of what power does and ought to look like? So much so that we fail to see positions of privilege where we are used to seeing lack of power? Or is it mere tokenism, a convenient ploy to seek a balance, of presenting equalities, which are in fact unequal? What is it that we are questioning, when we are questioning privilege? Is it possible to enact this weak thinking when thinking of archives, or the act of archiving? How else can you hold the weight of the world, if you don’t refuse to be the victim? How to begin? Why wait so long? Why apply a terminology indicating a ‘Cyber’, not ‘Digital’ Archives? But is it truly an archive? Is it art? Does work premised on a dialogic, prosumer model, seeking real-world impact, need to assume representation or an object form in order to be recognized as art? Is there a possibility that in reframing terminology we may clarify the potential of Cyber Archives? But what part does existence of documents and documentation have within Cyber Archives? Why are they important? What would happen to ‘time as technology’, when we discover a new technology that is even better than time? If time is a sort of technology, then are we not transient beings, not just in time but also heading towards a time where we can dimensionally modulate time as we architect space? Perhaps the question to ask is why don’t we have access to our future as we do of our past? Is memory (past) more authentic than imagination (future)? How do we define these narratives as concepts in relation to time? What unit of time do we use - millennia, decades, years, hours, minutes, seconds, nanoseconds, plank? Is our ‘present’ too transitory to even grasp? Is it not possible that we rely on imagination more than memory? What are we ‘pre’? Are we pre-cyber archives? What do these words mean? Is this terminology addressing a form of (techno) regression, nostalgia of pre-digital simplicity, a sentimental mythologising, or is it future shock? Or more insidiously, a longing for a certain kind of future that is in direct opposition to our current understanding of our own present. How will we shape our future? But by whom, and with what values? Do we have institutions capable of understanding and responding to these choices? Are we able to respond without undue or irrational passion? Will cyberspace promise privacy or access? Will it enable a free culture or a permission culture? Will it preserve a space for free speech? How can we mediate confidentiality? How are digital archives being utilised by marginalised groups? Can the Archives Speak? How do these processes, when mimicked by individual agents such as artists and non-institutions aiming to create counter archives, hold to a similar scrutiny of authenticity? How to understand crime and the conflict around us? Who defines evidence? Is an illusion more real than a fact? Can ‘poetry’ be used as ‘evidence’ in trial? How do we see, know, understand, and remember disappearances? How to look again? How can provisions be made, while at the same time allowing for diversity? What can Decoloniality and Queer Theory teach us in the contexts of the Archive? Do colonial archives still command the authority they once exerted over colonial subjects? And if they do not command any authority, what will replace the ruined colonial archives? Can we also call dematerialisation a mythologisation of material? Why do we call webpage a ‘page’? Or refer to websites as ‘site’? Why refer to a material lexicon when clearly the website is a para-site? Why expect cyberspace to operate within the parameters or our own senses and sensibilities? Should transaction economies, social norms and power structures, form within cyberspace in the same way as they do in meatspace? If we replicate the real world on the Internet, where do we leave the possibility for change? If Cyber Archives “seamlessly” embed the previously discrete acoustic, visual, linguistic, oral and literary spaces, can it represent a host/server/domain, where non-hierarchic transcultural zones can flourish? If what is to be “mediated” is in a state of flux, neither concrete, nor pre-existing and clearly summarisable, then how can mediation work in Archiving? How can archival practice be utilised as a tool for mediation? Can the mediators, in the face of a missing canon, tell what they want? What are they going to be and what are their tools for? Can the political-ity of these tools be equated? Will Cyber Archives watch out for us, or watch over us? Who polices the web police? What kind of a field would these hybrid gifts between social sciences and artistic practice constitute, and what kind of a language would this create? But between what and between whom? And that if culture is the formation of communication, then what are the linguistic components of our Hermeneutic aesthetics? What separates discourse from language? What allows one to assert at a given moment that language has become active as discourse? At what moment, and by virtue of what operation, what interplay between them, what conditions, do these concepts form discourse? What does ‘articulated’ mean? How is it possible to impose limitations on an activity that has none? How can the language of the cyber archive develop its own worldview? What are the compulsions that force us to ask these questions regarding the mapping of our lives and times? Why do we seek a model to explain ‘everything’? Where did the universe come from? How did it begin? When will it end? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Wouldn’t a ‘text on image’ be a meme only if it is popular? Does popularity equate with being right, or validity? What could be less substantial than a realm built out of waves of quantum probabilities? And what could be weirder? Are you a one or a zero? Are you a yes or a no? Are you going to act or not? Maybe the objective is describing something independent of perspective – devoid of subjectivity? In what sense can an objective description exist? What are the expected results, given the perspective from which the measurement is performed? What photons would enter my eyes if I were standing in a different location? How would I perceive this interaction if I had been born and raised in X circumstances? Will we continue forever finding better theories, but never one that cannot be improved upon? What happens when the cartographies of archives make the leap from the imagined to the (so far) unimaginable? Or if archival technologies that seem farfetched imaginations become commonplace reality? Will we think of memories differently, as another kind of technology, or another ‘re-membering’? What would the cyber archive of the future look like – when we shift from the archiving of memory through language to the archiving of ‘pure’ memory as language? Dumbledore’s Pensieve? Or perhaps some other kind of a critical commons? How do we map ourselves? How can archives and now cyber archives function as models of adequate scale so as to not under-represent the reality we wish to portray, but at the same time be manageable as interface? What are the possible parameters of such a mapping? What compromise could there be with the instrument of your repression? Does the artist-as-citizen still have a role to play in translating political projects into a vanguard aesthetic? What are the cyber archive’s role in moving a public from trauma to recovery, from normative thinking to norm-criticality, from oppression and injustice to resistance and struggle against hegemony? Will there be singing in the dark times? Is every body a witness? Is every body an archive? Do all bodies perform the archive equally? How do historical materialism, gender identities, and racial discriminations affect the body archive? How do gender, age, language, race, colour, sexual preference, nationality, religion, class, history, education, occupation, economic status, cultural conditioning, health, temperament, and political affiliation, individualise, alienate or bring together discourses of what it means to archive in the contexts of these subjects? Why is Code interesting? What do Cyber archives do? How do we utilise cyber archives to move from Chaos to Sense making? How is this maximum production of knowledge or ignorance archived? What consequences will this have for future exhibition projects and the discourse of Art ? What are archives and how to participate in the archive? What can an archive do? Why archive or what do we do with the archive? What is the scope of an archive? Where is the Archive situated? How do archives work? What can the archive contain? How to archive? What happens when an archive is outmoded? Why are archives important? what am I noticing about this archive and why: it’s spectacle? Logic? Intensity? Organisation? Simplicity or complexity?’ ‘What am I taking time to write down about this archive: the rhythm? The steps? The movement of data through its system? Its interface?’ ‘How is my conception of culture influencing what I look at?’ ‘Am I imagining culture as cohesive and bounded: as porous? Migratory? As dominated by outside forces? And what difference does that make? And, ‘how is my presence as an observer changing what I am observing? Is humanity on the path of a chronic entropic autoimmune disease?
Ali Akbar Mehta, Cyber Archive: Being and doing Knowledge, 2018
Cyber Archive: Archiving as a sustainable counter-hegemonic practice
Hakara Journal, (ed.) Ashutosh Poddar and Noopur Desai, 2018
Artistic practices have forced a change in how archives may be looked against the grain, used and even produced. Counter Archives, or specifically archives as artistic practice have often sought to disrupt the power matrix of the archival canon, often employing the same strategies and tools of the institutional archive, to counter it. For me, archiving is conceptually integrated into praxis – whether towards an artistic research or declared as a work by itself, an active process. It is not a passive matrix through which content passes but a body of work that shapes the entailed content. The archives that I’m interested in are not ‘art’ per se, but that archives are primarily in service to knowledge – its production, its transmission, and its retention for future use.
Read the Full text here
Archiving: Histories in the Present
Guest Lecture, Visual Cultures, Curating and Contemporary Art (ViCCA), Aalto University, Helsinki
In 2018, I was invited by Visual Cultures, Curating, and Contemporary Art, Aalto University, Helsinki, as a Guest Lecturer, to talk about ‘Cyber Archives’, in the context of Archiving as a method to create ‘Histories in the Present’.
The lecture was a introduction to Archives, and archival praxis within Contemporary Art. It was followed by a workshop styled course, and the culmination of this course can be found here.
Congratulations, the Space is invaded: Now What?
part of Space Invaders VI, curated by Anna Jensen and Elisa Suvanto, Helsinki
“Congratulations, the Space is invaded: Now What?”, at SPACE INVADERS VI - ‘Living Together’, Helsinki, 2018
By looking at the repeated gestures of Space Invasion and subsequent post-revolution spaces, we understand that the main difficulty in post-revolution spaces is maintaining the changed status quo, and to not revert back into sedimented hegemonies of power.
If Invading Space as an artistic practice may be thought to resonate with anarchist thinking, ie. a reclaiming of space from sedimented and stratified practices of capital based allocations of space, then we have to ask or think together, ‘How, may archives help us to not have to start from zero, when Invading Spaces? What to do after Invading Space? How can we take space to make space?’
To see recording of the talk, click here
To learn more about Space Invaders, click here
Die Schule der Archaeutopie in conversation with Ali Akbar Mehta, Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Vienna, 2018
Ali Akbar Mehta In conversation with Antonia Plessing
To Not Wait for the Archive: Home and Labour mired in the complications of Invisibalisation
Home Issue, Visual Culture and Contemporary Art Journal #5, (ed.) Saara Mahbouba, Paola Jallili and Else Lagerspetz, published by Aalto University, Helsinki 2019
The idea of home and labour itself has been mired in the complications of invisibilization of labor, the misdirection of value and surplus, and the recontextualization of the capitalist system as the driver of home politics. Is the home, as a site of labour – both visible and invisible – a public space? Not through physical proximity and shared-ness, but as the conceptual framework relevant to all our preoccupations? If we imagine the home as a centre – whether we conform to the idea of a home, rebel against it or are indifferent to it – the home serves as a node through which we may think about “the untagged and unnumbered zones of cultural and political possibility” opened up through an “active seeking out of engagement, exchange, and intersection through the modes of mutuality, collaboration, and emplacement, an experimental poetics of belonging”.
The home is therefore a critical commons and the question becomes how do we want to work to preserve it. This act (of preservation) becomes a tender act, essential in the way toward “learning to learn from below” as in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s formulation, or, as Souleymane Bachir Diagne puts it, learning from others in order to live together. Such learning, for Adam Szymczyk, allows us, as artists, to imagine a symmetrical situation of the encounter of equals, and not an asymmetrical power relationship between the sovereign and the subaltern.
The home in its formulation as a critical commons can perhaps find resonance in the ideas of Cyber Archives as yet another kind of a critical commons, where to me both are a “transitive engagement”, based on confident encounters (of equals), on the understanding that the Self and the Other need not be locked in the simplistic binaries of either communion or antagonism, hostage to fragmentation or subjugation, but that they can instead weave together a fabric of “adjacencies and distances”, “irrespective of a shared colonial history, which is no longer the only or the most important criterion for an intersection, encounter, or exchange among dissimilar subjectivities […]” When such identities are thus unmasked, de-naturalized and dissolved, we are free to work out new forms of dialogue and interaction across difference, a new and redeeming solidarity.
Read the complete essay in the Home Issue, Visual Culture and Contemporary Art Journal #5, (ed.) Saara Mahbouba, Paola Jallili and Else Lagerspetz, published by Aalto University, Helsinki 2019
External Evaluation of Ali Akbar Mehta/ Master’s Thesis – Cyber Archive: Being and Doing Knowledge
by Ranjit Hoskote
I find myself excited by Ali Akbar Mehta’s engagement with a world of rapidly, even exponentially escalating technological, social and ecological transformation – a world that has thrown up a series of ethical, aesthetic and political challenges, while also obliging us to alter, sometimes radically, our received definitions of individual subjectivity and ambient context (the network and meshwork relationalities blur the lines between these formerly distinct entities), nature and artifice (digital, virtual, augmented and hybrid environments possess a compelling psychic and effectively material reality, especially to a digital native, that cannot simply be dismissed as unreal), body and world (nano-technologies, surveillance devices, communication tools have changed our sense of where one ends and the other begins), and so forth.
In such a world, Mehta invites us to consider the nature of the archive as a resource and point of departure for art-making as well as ethical and political action; the residual questions of hegemony and colonialism that accompany it (who builds an archive; who has access to it; who controls the annotation that accompanies the records?), and organises an inquiry into how we may conceive of the archive in its expanded, rhizomatic and hyper-connected avatars in cyberspace as a ‘cyber archive’.
In a key move, Mehta invokes the trope of philology, advancing the claim that, as we go deeper into an epoch when our lifeworlds will be highly encrypted, the cyber archive will function as a language – I find myself thinking, here, of Wittgenstein’s cryptic suggestion that a language is a form of life – by means of which to negotiate and decode such a lifeworld. As a cultural theorist and curator, I find myself enthralled by this thesis, its explorations and its implications for the human subject and artistic agency in an epoch marked by a dramatic form of inter-species mutation as we all become cyborgs, organisms constituted as much by human consciousness as by technological prostheses.
Thus, it seems to me that Mehta’s choice of topic and his articulation of his artistic and scientific goals, in this thesis, closely reflect his preoccupations and anxieties as an imaginative, art-making subject and as the citizen-navigator of a complex present (in his chosen phraseology, a ‘User’ of the mercurial cyber archive). Significantly, also, he does not simply surrender before the already vast and ever-increasing bibliography on the subject of the archive; rather, he defines his area of study in relation to the particularities of the artistic and theoretical ground he has mapped as relevant to himself and his location, which straddles an organic belonging in the global South and an equally strong connection in the global North.
Thus, as he explores the cyber archive as a location for the production of culture he cites, as his points of inspiration, thinkers who have committed themselves to mapping grounds of transformation: the Agamben of The Experiential Field, charting the connection between poetry and philosophy; the nuancing of habitus, and the relationship between locus, power, disposition and experience by Pierre Bourdieu in The Cultural Field; and the transcultural potentialities of The Nth Field as theorised by Nancy Adajania.
Not only does Mehta demonstrate a command of the sources, materials and debates around his subject, but he also amplifies the horizon of reference to include thinkers and artists based in, or speaking from, the global South – thus refreshing the now considerable archive, if you will, of academic and artistic treatments of the archive. His approach is encyclopaedic – and his inquiry, compelling as it is, takes on the daunting challenge of bringing together a variety of themes (including, for instance, the archive, the commons, the politics of togetherness, translation as a mode of overcoming mutual atomisation and alienation, the emancipatory hope of pedagogy in a “knowledge society without knowledge” or with fragmented knowledges, and the formation of communities that perform and re-tool knowledge, as platforms of resistance to the large-scale flattening of experience and expression) while also crafting conceptual tools on the go, as it were, offering analysis, manifesto, and lexicon in succession.
At some point in this endeavour, the thesis unfolds as a constellation – and I begin to wonder whether it might not have assumed the form of an exhibition, or a performance, or a cyber-concert, or a hybrid conference. And then I stop myself and think that, perhaps, this is the intent of Mehta’s thesis – to compress an expansive and existentially urgent inquiry into the format of an academic investigation, while simultaneously pushing up against and beyond the constraints of such a format. The doing of this thesis emerges as an artistic strategy; and yet, it carried forward the impulse of scientific curiosity and a will-to-systematisation.
[Bombay: 8 June 2018]
Bibliography and other Reading
Reading For Cyber Archive: Being and Doing Knowledge
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Clark, Andy, Natural Born Cyborgs?, Science at the Edge, (Union Square press, New York, 2008)
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