Archival memory and dissolution: the after image project

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Cooke, G & Reichelt-Brushett, AJ 2015, 'Archival memory and dissolution: the after image project', Convergence, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 8-26.

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We are surrounded by archives, archives personal and national; our externalized memories and their material placeholders line our shelves and attics, just as they crowd the vaults of our national repositories. But how do we relate to archives as material memories? What do we gain in their preservation, and what, paradoxically, might we lose? For good reason, archival materials are conserved and preserved in order to ward off dissolution, of both the things themselves and their memory function. But what does archival preservation prevent us from feeling, seeing and doing? What creative possibilities might be released when the archive is dissolved? In this article, we discuss our art–science collaboration, after | image . This project is about personal and material memory and about archival preservation and dissolution; it features time-lapse macrophotography of photographic negatives being chemically and physically destroyed. The negatives come from Grayson Cooke’s studies in photography at high school – this archive has been stored in his parents’ attic for 20 years, nominally ‘preserved’ for posterity but degrading nevertheless, as all material objects do. The submission of a personal archive to chemical destruction not conservation, and to a digital recording of this destruction, highlights the crux of the project’s enquiry and introduces its affective charge. Why destroy the archive, why commit archival treason? Because in doing so, you can make it live again .

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