The Ephemera(l) Institution 12

by Martin Gantman

The Archive as Ephemera(l)

As soon as one mentions the word archive, similar to the issue with ephemera and detritus, mental and physical optics once again begin to blur. Eyes cross. Hands hesitatingly reach toward heads as if not wanting to offend the itchiness that isn’t actually there. Derrida, along with Freud, is partially responsible for this particular linguistic debacle – in addition to the Internet (the Internet being this era’s ultimate container of everything disseminated). Though one has long acknowledged the arduous use of words for communicating, one suffers, once again, at not being able to comfortably use a word whose meaning (a word one usually attempts to avoid at all costs) one thought held long accepted agreement. On the other hand, when you have just finished a Pynchon, almost everything else, including Derrida, suddenly becomes intelligible.  Even archive, and the repression of archive as archive, makes complete sense.

It appears that an archive is generally accepted as a collection or catalog of something that can be qualified or labeled. But how does that relate to an Ephemera Kabinett, which is, loosely, an agglomeration of memorabilia unsystematically delivered to the Institute from almost anyone. Or the Earth Kabinett, which contains soils samples, or possibly muck, from any old place that happened to feel passionately significant to someone in the moment. How does one scrupulously label such assemblages? Or even The AIDS Chronicles that specifically, though not conceptually, references one word.

The Institute, rather than suppressing archive to achieve archive, does a 180. It espouses archive, promotes it, embraces it and, in so doing, becomes archive. And this concept is not to be glossed: an institution, constructed by its constraints, becomes a container, and that container, among other things, becomes an archive – a site of memory.

Its propensity toward archiving frames the ephemera(l) atmosphere that conditions the Institute. And it is the accomplishment of this collectivity that recycles to activate the beauty (in the sense of how wonderful that such a thing could happen) of such collections that the Institute contains – like taking detritus to the dump out of which arises some resurrected agenda lauded for its societal beneficence, or as in a reframing of 60’s natural beauty (in which case however the acceptance of certain styles of body hair were never fully embraced).

Similarly, if one stops to take a close reading of each individual archive housed within the Institute, there is an excellent opportunity that one will unfortunately pass aimlessly through their forest of institutional collusion. In this institution the archive is situated as a place of past that leads, more particularly, to one of future. And though we very carefully strived to avoid commingling the ideas of ephemera and memory, this is still the issue that first beguiled us. It is in memory that the life of a defunct institution resides and, in this case, it is the archive, what the archive represented, what the archive promised, and what the archive, now physically absent, in interpretation revealed that gives us the key to the existence of post Institute coherence.