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Archive: Deposits



128pp, full colour, Berlin: The Greenbox, 2006
with contributions by Monica Ross, Alexander Garcia Düttmann, Eric Jacobson, Michael Newman and Kai-Uwe Hemken, design by Anja Lutz


1942 (Poznan)

“As the video projection begins, we see a tiled floor. The camera rises in a vertical pan to show a swimming pool with a lone swimmer. We hear singing in Hebrew: it is the mourning prayer, ‘Aw Harakhamim’ (sung by the former cantor of the Jewish community in Szeged, Hungary). The camera continues its steady, inexorable movement, and the viewer who is familiar with Jewish places of worship begins to see, in the austere and beautiful symmetry of the building, the structure of a synagogue, with its seating area over the main door, and vaulted ceiling. The title, 1942 (Poznan) contains the clue: the site is the Poznan Synagogue, converted into a swimming pool by the Nazis in 1942.

Through the juxtaposition of the image with the sung prayer that takes us beyond the visible, Orlow releases an evocative power of the image that calls up the repressed memory of the place, turning it into a memorial to those who once worshipped there, most of whom would have perished. If the swimming pool contains the suggestion of baptism (as well as, perhaps, the Jewish ritual baths), the pull of the prayer works precisely against an art of resurrection—the dead are not resurrected by being represented, nor are they redeemed.”

– Michael Newman



Housed Memory

Housed Memory constitutes an exhaustive video archive of the collections held by the Wiener Library, London. The Wiener Library has its roots in early 1930’s Berlin but has been based in London since 1938 and was the first Holocaust archive in the world. The collections includes eyewitness accounts, collections of documents, books, photographs and films. The video is an endless but discontinuous, handheld tracking shot, in which the camera takes on the role of an historical witness and records—shelf by shelf—the contents of the archive. Nine hours in duration, Housed Memory both reveals the sheer materiality of a collection which is otherwise hidden from view and at the same time produces the sense of the unknowable in the face of a totality which cannot be grasped.

The accompanying soundtrack consists of staff and volunteers talking about their work with, and their relationship to, the documents.

“A liminal work, Housed Memory plays on the two extremes or limits of memory as defined by Derrida: the interiority associated with the voice, and the exteriority of the physical support. The tracking shot of the shelves (‘shelf’ was one of the possible meanings associated with the Greek and Latin terms for ‘library’) supporting the volumes and boxes is seen from outside and contrasted with the voices of those who work in the archive, which often speak of memory. The two limits of memory are juxtaposed: memory as testimony, given in speech; and memory as the physical ‘stuff’ retained by the library. What we are not allowed to see, except in the form of labels, is the writing that mediates between the two. Thus the ‘inwardness’ of spoken memories and experiences is brought into proximity with the physical support—quite literally in the case of the shelving—of the archive. Since this is a recording, we are reminded that ‘inward’ memory also depends on a support. What is at stake here is the relation not just of memory, but of testimony, to the archive. Orlow juxtaposes the tracking shot of closed books and archive boxes—we can only read the titles and numbers, there is a sense of exclusion here—with the voices of those who work in the Library, some of whom are survivors themselves, others witnesses to the witnesses.”

– Michael Newman


Inside The Archive

Inside the Archive takes us through the interior of a small archive and library, foregrounding its material conditions, and focusing on different spaces which are devoted to archival tasks and lingering on minute and banal details. Inside the Archive reflects on the archive as something which is never fixed in meaning or material, but is nevertheless here, usually invisible yet at the same time monumental, constantly about to appear and disappear; latent. The visual exploration of the archive at the intersection of concept and matter has a profound urgency. With the dematerialisation of archives through the process of digitisation, there is a need to re-assess the material qualities of archive and document.

“Paradoxically, in Inside the Archive the still image has to do with change, and the moving image with stillness. The sequence of still images tend to take as their subject the effect of time on the archive: the signs of age and deterioration on the building. The images are still, while the building is changing.”

-Michael Newman


The Wiener Library (London)

The Wiener Library (London) shows the exterior of the Wiener Library building on a London street. Scrolling over this everyday image is the alphabetical list of thesaurus terms which allow the collection to be searched by way of keywords. This image of the Wiener Library locates it in a geographic and hermeneutic map. The constancy of the everyday image of the building is disturbed by the insistence of the catalogue entries which overlay it in a refusal of representation whose simple format brings to mind Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil.


Alexander Garcia Düttmann | From memory | 2005

Uriel calls yesterday and asks me if I want to write a brief contribution on two of his installations for the catalogue of their exhibition at ifa Galerie in Berlin. I have seen these installations and can, so I believe, remember them well. I nonetheless ask Uriel to send me an e-mail mentioning a few facts of importance for the works in question, such as their titles (did he give them a title?). They ought to jog my memory. Uriel says he will pass on the reminders tomorrow. But would it not be much more fitting to the works were I to try to write about them without such reminders, just the way I have held them in memory after five or six years? One installation consisted of a video projection accompanied by the playing of a tape. I thought it was a Kaddish, but Uriel corrected me on the telephone. The name of the other prayer has slipped my mind.
It will probably be included in the e-mail tomorrow. Uriel had constructed a rectangular space for the projection in which benches had been set up, or so it seems to me now. Is that right? The video, which could be seen on one of the walls and which Uriel had shot during a trip to Poland, showed an empty swimming pool in an old building. The camera soared up and up without ever coming to a standstill, until it had turned completely upon itself and had swung back, its flight still unbroken, to its point of departure. That strikes me today as being an extremely elaborate and technically difficult movement, one that my memory associates in retrospect with Sokurov’s Russian Ark. [No, I am mistaken. Uriel’s description, which I have since received, leaves no doubt about the fact that the movement is cut short, since the body, the bearer of the camera, is standing in the space.The where one was at the beginning. The arch opens out, the end does not simply communicate with the begin- ning. Uriel has thus constructed his space for a voyage of discovery which transpires in another space. Here one can discover what is to be discovered over there. Yet as a viewer who has never travelled to Poland and who has also not inspected the relevant documents in the archives, do I know that I am being shown the inside of the synagogue of Poznan, which in 1942 was re-functioned into a swimming pool by the Nazis? Is not another archive always required, an archive of the archive, a frame in which the archive is positioned, an ark which contains it, and an arch which discloses and closes it off? One could say that Uriel’s space is a moving archive. On the one hand, because his archive cannot count as a permanent institution, and needs a gallery or a museum to accommodate it. Is this strange mobility of the archive directed against the forgetting which lurks in the memory of the archive? And indeed defines this very memory (from out – of memory)? In this case, the spectator should not forget that where a swimming pool is to be found today, there once stood a synagogue in which Jews congregated, and that one of the most terrible crimes in human memory has blocked the transition from the past to the present. [The circumstance that the camera arc does not swing back to the beginning, that its movement only de- scribes a semicircle, perhaps indicates that the transition is not to be understood as a continuous process.] On the other hand, because it is a question here ofinterruption thus recalls the blind spot without which there would be no camera movement, no matter how mobile the camera may be and or how skillfully the cameraman goes about his work, in order to make his own body, the body of the camera, as transparent as possible. The swimming pool is not empty either. And the camera’s gaze lingers for a long time on the tiles which cover the floor. The camera does not describe a movement that extends regularly over time.] What does the eye discover as it is borne aloft? That the indoor pool must once have been a place of worship, a synagogue. The camera registers and archives the change, transform- ing it into a fact. But this transformation has to be carried out time and again, one cannot divorce the fact from its execution. The archive is an ark of knowl- edge, but at the same time an arch erected by Uriel, as if he wanted to hold fast the one and the other end (of the thread of history). A discovery is made during the traversal, such that one does not arrive at the end moving images, in both senses of the term. Does not the prayer of mourning draw attention to this double meaning of movement? Further, because the archive first comes to be opened through the execution of filmic movement, thus making impossible any imme- diate access to a given document. One discovers in the film that for which it provides documentary evidence – the space of the former synagogue. Finally, because the document is actually created through the video and cannot be said to exist as such. The video is not simply the reproduction of an independently existing document. It is a reproduction that is itself preserved and displayed as a document in a space created for it. What do I conclude from the fact that Uriel’s produc- tion of such a moving archive is the work of an artist, not that of an architect or historian? That one only discovers something in an archive when one discovers the archive itself. The archive requires a further ar- chive because it, too, must be discovered each time, or because there is no archive of all archives. However, do I not destroy Uriel’s moving archive by drawing such a conclusion, as if it had served me solely as an occasion, or a reminder, to amass and preserve knowledge in my own archive? – I saw Uriel’s other installation Housed Memory one Saturday afternoon in the Wiener Library. Above all, I remember the video with the camera pan- ning endlessly along shelves lined with documents.

A travelling in Shoah: along tracks? Upon the tracks? A travelling in Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, Alain Resnais, 1955): along a fence? The journey appears in this case to lead through the corridors of the archive, through the arteries of memory, without ever arriv- ing at a destination. No document is reached for to jog or fill the memory. The fullness of memory remains empty. [I have, as I learn from reading Uriel’s e-mail, forgotten the conversations and the photographs, the setting up of “three different and nonetheless con- nected works”, which first allows the observer to speak of an installation. What, then, do I conclude from the fact that Uriel’s installation is the work of an artist, not that of an architect or historian? That in order for the fullness of memory not to remain empty, the paths, the corridors, the arterial passageways, in short: the connections without which no archive is possible, must cease to communicate with each other, must not flow together (from out – of memory). Like the camera movement in the synagogue that is a swim- ming pool, the camera movements through the Wiener Archive remain silent. For a journey upwards or along is not itself knowledge, even if the journey produces knowledge, or contributes to the production of knowl- edge, even if it is determined by a knowledge. That is perhaps the barrier that the artist Uriel imposes upon my conclusions. I will have to look at the installations again and again.]

Alexander Garcia Düttmann, London, November, 2004

Published in Glad to be of service (Berlin: ifa, 2005), reprinted in Deposits (Berlin: Greenbox, 2006)