Wrap Your Head Around The Archive

How many times have you looked through that box of old homework assignments, or the stacks of home movies gathering dust as they await posterity? If you’re anything like me, that archive of your earlier days has been languishing unattended for far too long. In fact, it’s a fairly well-established theory of mine that most archives are essentially abandoned after the urge for preservation has been placated by piles and piles of stuff set aside to gather dust—which is why I was particularly titillated by KW’s latest offering: Living Archive, a reinterpretation of footage from the Arsenal Institute's seminal contemporary video collection.


By offering artists, curators, and other researchers the opportunity to develop a contemporary reinterpretation of material from the archive, as well as the archival processes themselves, KW managed (somewhat shockingly) to make the annals fresh again. Unfortunately, fresh ultimately felt a little more like freshman: what could have been an innovative homage, felt more like a stale and struggling recycling of once-great works. 

The Living Archive Opening. Photo: Chris Phillips

Way up on the second floor of KW, in an appropriately attic-like space, I first found myself confronted by Florian Zeyfang's moving pictures of the ligatures between film; the snippets of undeveloped materials – the splices themselves. As an avid and unapologetic minimalist, I was a big fan. The grainy up-close images are like Rothkos without the color: tiny treatises on making and the place of the human hand in art. Dirt, tape, and the scars left by scissors are illuminated from behind as the splices fly by in a delightful slideshow that highlights the space between.

Rothko-esque Video Art. Photo: Chris Phillips

Wandering further amidst screens and monitors, projections and installations, another Rothko-inspired video assemblage caught my attention, albeit only for a few blinking moments. Red Screen, Blue Screen, White Screen, Blue Screen—the monitors themselves functioned as updated color fields, and the installation, if not the actual content, was enticing. Unfortunately, installation failed the artist who wielded iphones like ungainly leaves on a stand-cum-trunk and expected the result to be avant-garde. The iphone tree was trying so hard that I actually took the time to engage with the minute images flashing across oddly-angled screens, only to find myself frustrated at the awkward placement and sycophantic structure.

Let There Be Light

Unfortunately, I faired no better where content was king. Sabine Nessel and her seminar class presented an archeological investigation of the documentary film "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe." However, the only compelling element of the installation was in fact the original documentary footage, calling into question the entire re-interpretive endeavor. There was some light at the end of the tunnel (or rather, up the stairs) in the form of strung together logs of color; abstract representations of the colors and forms found in a film strip. By abstracting the content and re-imaging both form and meaning, the sculptural installation managed to breathe some life into the archive, albeit tangentially, at best.

Art Lovers take in Living Archive on Opening Night. Photo: Chris Phillips

All told, Living Archive was fairly lackluster—beautifully curated (like all KW shows), intellectual, conceptually rigorous, but ultimately more than a little meh—much like those home videos I pulled out in homage to the occasion. Turns out, some footage should be left alone (and the rest is only interesting to the connoisseurs), so consider that before climbing to the second floor of KW or reclaiming that box collecting dust in your closet.

KW Contemporary – "Living Archive" Group Exhibition – June 6th to June 23rd, 2013 – Sun-Mon: 12pm to 7pm 

Article by Hannah Nelson-Teutsch