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(Re)thinking an Archive

All information, from books to art pieces, can be stored and searched online. Yet, archive spaces like Archivorum are flourishing alongside other fields of knowledge production, putting in question whether analog ways to deal with knowledge are completely lost to online. With this article, we are exploring how the notion of an archive has changed over the past years and how Archivroum contributes to this process.

In terms of documenting information, archiving is probably one of the oldest knowledge-related activities. Archeology shows that we started to develop ways to store and preserve information almost as soon as we learned how to record it. In their more recent forms, archives appeared as the aftermath of the French revolution in 1790. Overwhelmed by the amount of confiscated documents, some of which were precious artifacts, the post-revolution government established Archives Nationales in every department with headquarters in Paris. To this day, the National Archive in France remains one of the biggest in the world and includes documents dating back to the seventh century AD!

However the concept of the archive did not stay unchanged. As the means of conservation grew, so did the boundaries of the term archive. During the nineteenth century, the state gradually lost its monopoly on archiving history and preserving the present. Along with national archives, phenomena like the “raw archive”, the “social archive”, the “postcolonial archive” and many more have appeared. Some archives blurred the boundary between categories. For example, “ethnographical archive” questioned the difference between archive and museum. Or archives like Archivorum, namely the “art archive”, operate on the border between an archive, a research space, and a library.

Theoretical reconceptualization of an archive started in the realm of philosophy with major works written by the likes of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Published in 1969, Foucalt’s “The Archeology of Knowledge” deconstructs what is meant by an archive, only to explain it as “system of discursivity”, and thus presenting it as a framework of power; for Foucault, an archive helps certain knowledge to be discussed while allowing other knowledge to be forgotten.[1] In 1996, Derrida took a psychoanalytic approach to the concept. The philosopher argues that conservation and affirmation of the past, the archive drive, is counteracted by the death drive, destruction of the archive, or forgetting the past. Just as thanatos and eros create personality of an individual according to Freudism, creation and destruction of archival records creates history, or personality of civilization according to Derrida.[2] Similarly to Foucault, Derrida prescribes archive a power to determine the history by the tools archivization operates with. According to Derrida, “archivization produces as much as it records the event.” History, after all, must be written by someone.[3]

The construction of Archivorum, described in previous interviews on this website, seems a fitting Derridean example. By discussing how Babs Haenen implements the shards left from her creative process into the façade of the building, Archivorum expands the means of archivization and conserves the very evidence of her creative method.

Ilya Kabakov, a Russian conceptual artist, uses archivization methods to depict Soivet reality. (Photo:

Along with a transformation of a general concept of an archive, the concept of the art archive has seen significant changes too. As archives included more documents and art-related objects, art itself has also been moving towards the notion of an archive. Starting with the prewar period words of Alexander Rodchenko and John Heartfield, the tendency to apply archival principles in art gained its strongest momentum in the beginning of the twenty-first century, motivating the scholar Hal Foster to suggest “an archival impulse”.[4] Decolonization of knowledge and art, deconstruction of identities, sexuality, and roles became the main reasons for the artists to refer to archives in the quest of discovering new truth. Hal Foster argues that such art “make[s] historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. To this end [archival artists] elaborate on th found image, object, and favor the installation format”. In some cases, artists themselves become archivists, as in Deller & Kane’s Folk Archive.

The archive, on the other hand, approaches art as well. Archives become a place where one, an artist and/or an audience engages with the past. For example, Sitterwerk Foundation in Switzerland defines itself as “a place where production, research, preservation, and the mediation of art pervade and enrich one another in diverse ways.”

With the focus on artists’ books and research, Archivorum also moves towards art. Committed to preserving art, Archivorum also developed a collaboration with several art publishers, such as Kodoji press, with whom Archivorum issued two artists’ books and presenting them during Art Basel. And more collaborations are to follow.

The first two books published by ArchivorumxM, in collaboration with kodoji press

Part of Archivorum's idea is to give archive status to the artists who were not represented before. By building such a space, Archivorum provides artists the opportunity to develop a discourse in which they would like to preserve their art, whether it is by creating a façade with pieces of works or publishing a book.

Another important part of the Archivorum’s mission is capture actors in art scene that are often left unnoticed by the other art archives, namely art publishers. At the moment, Archivorum has collected books and other materials from over seventy publishers aiming to preserve not only the books themselves but also the unique methods and perspectives that the publishers provide. Thus Archivorum is not only about the memory of artists, it is also the memory of the publishers.

Apart from preservation, Archivorum intends to create a safe haven where people can discuss, share, contribute, be alive, and be visible. Despite the fact that the physical space does not exist yet, the space for discussion is already open, and everyone is welcome.


  1. Foucalt, “The Archeology of Knowledge".

  2. Manoff, "Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines", Portal: Libraries and the Academy 4, no. 1 (2004): 9–25.

  3. Derrida and Prenowitz, “Archive Fever,” 54.

  4. Foster, "An Archival Impulse", October (2004): 3–22.

  5. Zapperi, “Woman’s Reappearance: Rethinking the Archive in Contemporary Art—Feminist Perspectives.”, Feminist Review , 105, no. 1 (November 2013): 21–47.

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