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Five-year research project on archiving comes to an end

2018-05-15

For Malmö University research project Living Archives, the end is just the start. The final event was not just a celebration, but a way to continue the dialogue around digitisation, power and the future of archiving.

       

“Somatic Archiving” (Jeannette Ginslov, Margret Sara Gudjonsdottir, Susan Kozel, Keith Lim, Laura Siegmund); “The Bronze Key” (Gibson / Martelli, Susan Kozel); “The Co-Archiving Toolbox” (Elisabet Nilsson, Sofie Marie Ottsen Hansen); “Bitter & Sweet” (Temi Odumosu, Maria Engberg, Susan Kozel); “AffeXity: Passages & Tunnels” (Susan Kozel, Jeannette Ginslov, Daniel Spikol, Camilla Ryd, Jacek Smolicki). 

Living Archives was started by a team of researchers from very different fields to explore the challenges of working with archives in an increasingly digitised society. They wanted to understand how and why archives are important for public heritage and memory, and how technology has transformed archiving practices.

The project’s final event, held at Malmö Art Museum, included panel discussions and performances, and showcased the many alliances that Living Archives has formed with artists and cultural organisations outside the University. Susan Kozel, professor of new media and project leader of Living Archives, says the event was a way to look forward, rather than looking back.

“We wanted the event to draw in past as well as present collaborators who might be interested in seeing what could possibly come next."

Who owns our memories?

Kozel was glad to see some thought-provoking discussion roused among the audience at the event.

“Ownership of archived material was a big question. One participant made the suggestion that if an archive is made up of people’s memories and histories, we should be paid for giving our material to archives. This sparked a controversial discussion.”

“There was also a realisation that a new ethics needs to be considered when people’s lives are archived. For instance, if we wish to archive the histories of refugees in Sweden, asking them to talk about potentially traumatic experiences, what are the ethnics around this? Who actually owns the stories? How long can they be held? Can individuals later ask for their material to be pulled out of the archive? These were some of the questions that we didn’t have answers for. What was valuable, however, was that the event opened up a space for reflection.”

Challenging colonialism and encrypting bodies

Living Archives, which at its midpoint consisted of 11 core researchers, has constantly been developing and, according to Kozel, addressed what was happening in the world through “meaningful diversions.”

“We appreciate the flexibility afforded through support from the Swedish Research Council, which meant that we were able to engage with current issues during the research process,” she says.

In her view, some of the topics that will continue to be significant in coming years are decolonisation and body data.

“Decolonisation of archival memory is not just about increasing representation in archives but taking practical measures to promote equality and dismantle colonial traces. For instance, one of the research sub-projects, involving Temi Odumosu, Maria Engberg and myself, has been to develop alternative approaches to colonial archival material by combining augmented reality technologies with media and performance.

“Body data, on the other hand, could be anything from heart rate and breath, to how much you’ve run or eaten. We know that this data can be used in a fun way to promote health, but it could also be scooped up by insurance companies who might then raise premiums. This raises the important question of how much of our bodily data we want to make available, and how much we may want to keep private.”

In the light of the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, concerns surrounding privacy and encryption are ever more pressing.

“There’s a saying that goes if the product is free, we are the product, whether we know it or not. That’s why a large part of the Living Archives project was looking at what openness means and degrees of openness,” Kozel adds.

Text: Maya Acharya

Last updated by Maya Acharya