Bodies and Cities as Archives
Instructor: Dr. Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe
University of Basel, Fall Semester 2020
Module: The Urban across Disciplines, Projects and Processes of Urbanization
Image: Out of the Box Workshop (Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe, Carolin Genz, Berlin 2019)
This course explores the study of the urban through the lens of the archive. The readily available notion of an archive is that of an accumulation of two-dimensional records evidencing the past. In this course, we will revisit and go beyond this narrow definition and grapple with the diverse range of archives, often multimodal in their complexity. We consider different archives that use a variety of media and memory objects, including material to digital examples and the in-betweens. Along the following lines, we will also ask to what extent archives not only capture memory but also shape futures:
“In an enigmatic sense, … the question of the archive is not … a question of the past. … It is a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow. The archive: if we want to know what that will have meant, we will only know in times to come.”(Derrida 1996, 36)
As a site of selective public or private memory, a collection of evidence in material and immaterial form shaped by various power dynamics, and a metaphor for holding data, the archive is central to the mediated production and understanding of archival bodies and archiving agents - in this course, we focus on the body proper and the city.
Furthermore, we will be concerned with the “data carrier” and questions of format, temporality, materiality, technological possibilities, and accessibility, as much as with cultural practices of memorizing and forgetting, categorization, valuation and visibility.
Examples and literature support our discussion on how archival bodies at different scale are “made” and which lines can be drawn between practices of intersectional discrimination, objectification, control, contest, movement, reflection, redefinition, etc. At the same time, we will unpack the power of the archive and its emancipatory capacities.
Guiding themes throughout the course are the following:
_the archive as artefact that holds particular knowledges and memories in the context of power (to decide and to produce what gets included) and valuation (what is worth including according to the archivists’ knowledge, skills and ideology); various media and formats from material to digital
_the archive as inscribed onto human and non-human actors, specifically, the body and the city as archives with inscribed/imposed information
_ the archive as actor itself: the body and city as archival instruments (sensory, cultural, social etc experiences and practices), and storages of data.
As actors, archives are also witnesses, equipped with transformative powers toward shaping the future. Which brings us to the last, but crucial point:
_the larger temporal and spatial networks in which archives operate
Archives have various - at times contradictory - purposes and a corresponding multitude of archivists and their respective intentions for the archive and its impact. Governmental and institutional archives hold a particular power over the narration of history, however, social movements, civil society organizations, and various activist groups have created a range of alternative collections, often using oral histories or sound archives. As much as archives preserve what is to be remembered individually and/or collectively, they also render certain knowledges – intentionally or not – to be forgotten. We will critically consider the silences as much as the imposed inscriptions, and begin to craft new, reflected narratives with the future impact of archives in mind.