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In the Making
by PJLeese

’Archive Box 110/989’ developed from my interest in connections between contemporary visual practice and understandings of the past, especially the ways in which 'history' is continually retold, reinterpreted and re-visualized for present day purposes. Following my current visual and archival research interests I decided to work with three 20th century moments as my case studies for visual investigation. My initial approach was to research  the new ways of seeing and visual making that emerged in the wake of the Second World War—for example in the work of Alberto Burri, Alina Szapocznikow, and the early work of Bruce Conner. This led me to write an essay titled ‘ZEROISM: a lexicon of strategies’, which is an early statement of my intentions, and which helped me develop a series of making tools and display approaches: aleatoric, array, awkwardness, disruption, erasure, materiality, rawness, rhizome, sensation. These tools emerged both by looking closely at the work of a wide array of artists from the later 1940s to the early 1960s, but equally from a consideration of how these related to my own ways of seeing, making and displaying, and to our own twenty-first century moment.

            Subsequently I set about a similar analysis of the post-World War One era. Here three paired themes emerged: mannequins and ruins, edgelands and architectures, grids and copies. What connects these categories is the way in which each became a newly prominent subject or location of seeing from the early twentieth century. All have since been creatively and fruitfully reworked many times by later generations of artists. I have in mind here a genealogy that passes down from Atget and Breton to Matta-Clark, the Bechers and Anthony Hernandez.  The grid as a display strategy as well as conceptual tool also became increasingly important to me around this time. I wrote a second essay, ‘GHOSTOLOGY: present pasts’ to help develop and contextualize my visual work further.

            In the middle and latter part of 2022 many of these themes coalesced and were again supplemented by an investigation into the theme of 'the archive': what knowledge it may or may not reveal, what blind spots or opportunities for understanding it offers. Increasingly interested in the links between text and image, I now decided to ‘fictionalize’ my visual work. I created a imaginary archive, artist and curator / librarian who would make and collate a series of visual pieces and written commentaries connected to the post-Cold War moment.  (The breach of the Berlin Wall was 9th November 1989--hence the name of the Archive Box.) This is my third and final historical moment: a case study through which I consider the nature of the past and its visual recovery or reconstruction. 

            Archive Box 110/989 is, then, the culmination of these long processes of making, visual research, writing. To create this particular archive I also changed visual medium using the ‘reality’ of photographs to explore the fictionality of the past. I understand this past to be always and only a useful, partial construction which is made to allow us new insights into our present. The visual presentation of this website—oblique, not entirely hospitable or welcoming, confusing in provenance and the identity of voices—reflects my thinking on the nature of historical knowledge and our attempts to ‘process’ it in visual, spoken, written media.

            Various writers and artists, many of whom I discuss in my 'Archivistics' essay, have also influenced my approach including Saidiya Hartman, W.G. Sebald, Violeta Bubelytė, Boris Mikhailov, Thomas Hirschhorn, Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucci, Michael Lesy and J.G Ballard, among others. These have in common creative engagement at the place where fictive, otherworldly and ‘actual’ are distinguishable only with difficulty, and the reasons why we might want to make such distinctions are not entirely clear. The fictional nature of my archive makers is significant also because stepping into an alternative persona can enable new modes of understanding. In the process of developing both the archive of visual and written material varied research strategies are also key.

            In the case of Archive Box110/989 it resulted in the semi-fictional essay on this website ‘ARCHIVISTICS: toward alternative futures’, which defines its subject, and addresses the nature of archival knowledge as document / fiction (archive); re / visualised pasts (counter-archive); and process / display (anarchive). I am currently working towards a larger visual / writing project which will develop these themes further. For the moment the interim results of my making and writing are displayed on this site. I am of course interested in displaying, exhibiting and publishing.                                                                                                         

             If asked to name my subject as a visual practitioner I might reply 'the archive', which seems to me an infinitely expandable and transformative way of understanding our individual and collective selves. The librarian has his doubts though (see note in the 'Archivistics' section).


making the archive box--a tribute to John Latham and Gustav Metzger's 

'Destruction in Art Symposium' (London, 1965)

Selected source materials for Archive Box 110/989

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