“Who’s Afraid of the Archive?”

“Who’s Afraid of the Archive?” – Interdisciplinary meetup for artists, scholars and archivists


Organized in collaboration with the Humanities Cluster (HuC) of the KNAW and ARIAS, “Who’s Afraid of the Archive?” kicked off with an introduction by Gijs Kessler of IISH and the ARIAS program coordinator Flora Lysen. While Kessler focused on the types of projects and studies conducted at the IISH, the Huygens Institute and the Meertens Institute respectively, Lysen touched upon the ARIAS mission to help artistic and academic perspectives compliment each other.


Following on Kessler and Lysen’s introduction, Turkish artist and video activist belit sağ, who focuses on archiving and documenting politically oriented social movements in Turkey, made an opening speech, where she spoke of the nexus of her work. Describing her work as “making sense of images and narratives”, sağ went on to explain how she retrieves meaning from her materials, exposing them to the audience from a first person perspective. By situating archives and the practices of archiving as co-conspirators in her work, sağ went on to provide examples from prominent events and protests in Turkey’s hectic political past, including 2013’s Gezi protests. sağ concluded her presentation by introducing her video collective “bak.ma”, which is an audiovisual archive of social movements in Turkey, with counterparts like  “pad.ma” (India) and Mosireen (Egypt) respectively.


After sağ’s speech, the attendees were invited to join a table of their choosing, based on the numbers they were given upon entrance. The first of the discussion tables was led by IISH’s Gijs Kessler, who situated the focus on labour relations and work and power balance in the workplace, calling for a more activist approach. By introducing subjects from various places in the labour hierarchy, Kessler informed his audience on the circumstances and challenges within labour relations, ranging from visualising the challenges, accessing experience and using that experience for research.


Table 2, which was led by Douwe Zeldenrust of the Meertens Institute focused on an introduction of the audio collection of the KNAW, which features 6,382 hours of digitised audio from 1998 to 2018. Zeldenrust began his introduction with a brief overview of how the Meertens Institute covered the topic initially, and continued with examples from the archives that he shared with the participants. Ranging from captures of authentic dialogues and dialects to “household sounds”, the discussion also touched upon the sound project “Institute voor Huisgeluid”, led by Meertens’ artist in residence Elise t’Hart.


The third table of the evening was focused on inclusivity and led by IISH’s Leila Musson, Hannah MacKay and Thijs van Leeuwen. Beginning with a presentation on their work with inclusivity and noting that various other archives experience the same problem, the then trio introduced a prototype for inclusive archival data storage. By offering a way to shape archives via peer reviews, the prototype would allow some semblance of control, as well as enabling the audience to interact with the archive. Pointing out the difficulties of archiving migrant groups, Leila Musson commented on the lack of diversity in the archives and invited the audience to brainstorm on possible solutions to urge people to share their stories.


Focused on reading and writing in the margins, table 4 featured a contribution by Mariken Teeuwen, who is a professor at the Huygens Instituut. Teeuwen began by outlining the definitions and multilayered meanings that the margins carry in medieval texts and how much importance is placed in the study of such texts within the research that is carried out at the Huygens Instituut. By classifying margins as personalized notes that aim to engage with the memory of the reader and to capture their attention, Teeuwen introduced a main point of comparison between Latin textbooks and a modern book, “Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince”, centering the discussion on medieval reading practices and their reflections reflect our practices of reading and writing today.


The fifth and final table of the evening was led by Amsterdam born artist Pieter Paul Pothoven, who presented the audience with a lively discussion on the 80’s group RARA (Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action). Describing RARA as a riddle in itself, Pothoven went on to explain how he began to work on creating an archive on the collective, as well as opening its status as an organic entity versus a fixed entity to discussion. Contending that a “closed archive is a missing point of information”, Pothoven continued with visual examples and accounts of his communications with several prominent figures in the collective, concluding that while the process itself has been a long one, “archives themselves are not the work, archiving is.”