Like all productive collaborations, Open Archive is a discussion — a swirling, organic (a word used many times during our conversations), epistemic questioning, where utterances may stall and waver, and ideas are picked up later, the formation of ideas denying a definitive full stop.
Jared Davis and Helen Grogan share an interest in performance, so it follows that their ongoing project, Open Archive, would be an evolving push and pull of ideas — Grogan, Davis and the exhibiting artists take turns to lead, offering space for collaboration, discussion and negotiation. Based in Abbotsford, Open Archive has evolved during its first seven months. As a former choreographer, and as a practicing artist and curator, Grogan is invested in the idea of expanded choreography, one in which participation is intuitive, receptive and rigorously questioned. Grogan also sees collaboration as a process of translation and of communication with other practitioners, including Davis.
Davis and Grogan both have independent curatorial practices, and each is interested in the ways in which documentation can operate as an independent, ongoing project. Each curator is also invested in the seemingly endless ways in which documentation can work to inform a project — be that curatorial or artistic (in a retrospective manner). At one point in my conversation with the curators, Davis suggested that, for him, Open Archive pointed to the question of what documentation was, the possibility that it could be something other than simply fodder for the traditional institutional archive model. Both curators aimed to reconceptualise documentation, to have documentation play an ongoing role in the production of new work, to have it contribute to the production of meaning, and to have it factor in the discussion around a work.
Davis suggests that he wants Open Archive to propagate ‘a chain of events and a chain of influence’, that it should be an attempt to deal with the un-attributable and largely uncontrollable aspects of a project’s dissemination. This would include the replication and redeployment of a project — even partially — by different practitioners. As an example, Ardi Gunawan’s luckily there’s no inside (brick muppet filth face anxiety ladder. emotion traffic reenactment Jakarta body), a four day performance, included unplanned documentation by Mimmo Cozzolino. The photographs taken by Cozzolino were then used by Gunawan as the basis of a series of soft sculptures and soft toys. As Grogan and Davis state, the work then took on the qualities of ‘self-parody, fandom, projective re-enactments, identity, caricature, bad taste, documentary and fiction, commercial merchandising and perversion’.1
Davis and Grogan see the exhibition, the performance and/or the gig as frameworks that can be collapsed if necessary, so a performance can look like an exhibition and be experienced like an installation. Emile Zile’s work at Open Archive sought to test this idea: *best*RapidEssayNSFW!!, Post-it Kino and _OMGsisyphus comprised three overlapping performances and video works, which layered portraiture with the language and tools of video blogging, and combined it with Zile’s guided tour of the spaces — the live documentation of which formed another video project that was ultimately projected within the space. The work operated at the instant of the instance, playing with a notion of the transient quality of online presence for individuals and artworks. The spirit of this project and the larger Open Archive method depicts the shifting parameters for documentation, via a loosening of the grip on tightly held material and temporal associations.
Since there is an obvious best-case scenario for viewing this and other projects undertaken as part of Open Archive, the question of whether you ‘need to be there’ arises, along with the question of whether these ambitions for re-strategising documentation have been fulfilled by the projects themselves. Non-participants access the event/performance/gig on the website, in the form of a traditional and traditionally limited pairing of technologies and methods — photographs of a video work being one example. Zile’s work Post-it Kino made oblique and fragmentary references to various films, via words like ‘tumble weeds’ and ‘Martin Sheen’, which were handwritten by the artist onto Post-it notes, that were, in turn, stuck onto a black television screen featuring bouncing DVD logos. This action was then filmed and projected behind Zile, in sync with a sampling of recognisable filmic soundtracks. This work provides a partner to the question of documentation and its potential failings, where an uneasy pairing of technologies is used as a critique of the association between the production of the work and the loop of documentation. For example, the film reel, when replicated and duplicated, results in a degradation. Perhaps a new meaning is found in the space when feedback and distortion occur.
Open Archive appears also to describe the ways in which artistic practice can be replicated as a receptive curatorial strategy: each project staged thus far has presented a possibility for immersion and ‘audience’ entanglement, speaking to the politics of participation. This method works in opposition to the surfeit of stuff (in the world, in the artist’s studio and in gallery spaces alike) by privileging experience over object. It also leans on the idea that ‘the happening’ cannot be documented to give us, now, retrospectively, the opportunity to replicate the experience of being there. There is a kind of minimalism at play, which, like all successful relationships and collaborations, relies on proximity.
Amita Kirpalani is a curator and writer.