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Architecting the Archive

I was recently pondering the form of the archive. Indeed, while the “content“ is already quite evident and in the process of being determined – the archive will include a panoply of photographs and videos –, the form (or, if I may, the “container”) has remained somewhat undefined thus far. In other words, how would Nil’s archives be presented online? A recent discovery gave us food for thought.

During my Master’s studies, I became interested in the circulation of Sub-Saharan African classical objects within West Africa’s art market. Just a few weeks ago, over coffee, a fellow researcher shared an intriguing ethnographic archive photograph from the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, taken by the anthropologist and art collector Hans Himmelheber. While the photograph piqued my interest, it was the accessibility of the archives on the museum’s website that truly caught my attention. Called the “Archive Viewer“ their platform allows viewers to dive in and interact with the archives. I’ll let you discover it here:

Video 1 : Inside Museum Rietberg’s « Archive Viewer »

In this “Archive Viewer“ clicking on a keyword reshapes and refines the archive,establishing connections and providing an overview that allows users to grasp its content swiftly. As soon as I discovered the platform, I knew I had to discuss it with the rest of Archivorum’s team. I had the intuition that this very simple but captivating interface could inspire us for the future diffusion of Nil’s archives. 

Besides, I have an artist friend, Luc Courchesne, with whom I had the opportunity to collaborate on an exhibition in 2021. I believe he will be a valuable resource as we delve deeper into conceptualizing the form of the archive. A pioneer in digital arts, he has been working for several years on a new interactive work entitled “Naked in Paradise“.  With this work, viewers wear VR headsets and are immersed in his life’s archives: artworks, family photos, portraits, video clips, and surrounding sounds literally “envelop” them. Luc poetically refers to his work as a space for “flânerie“ inviting us to engage with and “play“ within his archives. You can discover a video of Luc Courchesne’s work here:

Video 2 : “Naked in Paradise” by Luc Courchesne

After sharing both the Rietberg Museum archive and Luc Courchesne’s archive with Nil, her enthusiasm mirrored my own. Thus, we agreed to opt for a form that is free, interactive and appropriable - in other words, alive!

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