Out of the Archives … New Archival Practices: “The session inspired me to think differently about my work”

From 12 to 14 July 2018, the Exploratory Workshop “Out of the Archives … New Archival Practices: Towards Alternative Historiographies, Voices, and Spaces” was held at Archive Kabinett Berlin-Wedding. It was convened by Rasha Chatta, Pascale Ghazaleh, Lamia Moghnieh and Alia Mossallam and organized in the framework of the joint initiative of the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung.

One objective of the workshop was to explore ways of diffusing archival material and nurturing collaboration between academics and the wider public in contributing to and reading archives in unconventional and unprecedented ways. 4 sessions moderated by artists working in different fields were offered to introduce how, in their practice, archival/historical material can be made available. The participants had the opportunity to bring objects from their own research and to engage with them in new ways, refreshing the perspective on their research archives. In this blog post, participants tell us more about their experiences.

Practicum session: “Performing across the material sound archive” © Mohamed Badarne

On July 12th, 2018, the researcher and artist Gilles Aubry offered a session entitled “Performing across the material sound archive”. In his work, Aubry explores sound and listening through artistic practices, including performative and speculative strategies. The participants were encouraged to bring their own sound material from past or current researches, to be discussed in the course of collective listening sessions and simple artistic re-interpretations. One of them was Adam Benkato, who is a researcher in Islamic Studies, Arabic Studies and Semitic Studies and currently a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at Freie Universität Berlin. Adam is engaged in the work of re-discovering an archive of vinyls that contains voice records from the period just before the independence of Libya.

Adam, could you give us a brief description of the object that you chose for the session?

I brought the digital version of a vinyl record. The piece itself was recorded in Benghazi, Libya, in the late 1940s during fieldwork for an unfinished linguistic research project on Arabic dialects, and is part of an archive of dozens of such records which I recently rediscovered. The record I brought for the session contained the voice of a man performing both sides of a scripted dialogue in the local Arabic dialect. To give some context, other records in the archive range from natural conversations and biographical narratives to scripted word lists, dialogs, and texts; many are labeled but the record I brought is not.

Why did you choose it and what did you anticipate while making the decision?

Since I was anticipating that we would analyze or interact with our objects as a group, though I was not yet sure exactly what we would do, I decided to bring one of the records whose purpose was unclear and which was challenging to think about in my current research, hoping that I would gain some insight by playing the record for colleagues working with their own sound archives and some ideas from Gilles Aubry about the possibilities of using sound archives in art.

Discussions during Gilles Aubry’s session © Mohamed Badarne

What did you do with the object during the session?

I first played the audio for the other participants without explaining what it was or giving any context—this was in order to elicit their ‘uninformed’ reactions based solely on the audio material itself, and to extrapolate on that basis the nature of the recording and the context in which it was made. After noting their reactions, which ranged from comments on the content to impressions of the voice’s quality, I explained as much of the context of the recording as I could.

How did you find the result, what surprised you?

About half the records from the archive I’m working with are unlabeled, including the one I chose for the session; I thus had only somewhat more context than the other participants who came to it with fresh ears. Interacting with the record in this group setting, where each participant had their own way of listening, was an extremely helpful way of engaging with it. The interaction brought me out of my own aural relationship with the record—I’ve listened to it numerous times and have become perhaps overly familiar with both the text and the audio texture. Perhaps unexpectedly, the other participants seemed to enjoy sharing their listening experience and interacting with both the audio and others’ perceptions of it; I certainly enjoyed listening to and discussing others’ audio objects.

Is this connected to your own research, and how?

My current research project looks at this archive of vinyl records from 1940s Libya from various perspectives, including the history of linguistics, theories of archival practices, sonic studies, and oral history. I’m also, or perhaps especially, interested in finding ways to study and interact with these records which bring them into the public (Libyan) experience of heritage and history, in particular, the artistic possibilities for sound records. The session was thus extremely productive insofar as it opened up for me new ways of thinking about sound in both scholarship and art (not that the two have to be separate!).

 

Another session on “Comics Remix. Old Materials, New Stories” was offered by the Beirut-based illustrator and comic artist Joseph Kai on Friday, July 13th. The session experimented in reusing ready-made old or new visual material of all nature as raw content for storytelling and as a technique of creating alternative narratives. The four-hour session drew on three main ideas: identifying visual material to be reused and treating it, composing visually and building a storyline, producing final artwork and publishing.

Michael Allan at work during the session “Comics Remix. Old Materials, New Stories”. © Mohamed Badarne

One of the participiants of Joseph Kai’s session was Michael Allan, who is an Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oregon, where he is also program faculty for Cinema Studies, Arabic and Middle East Studies. Michael is a EUMECNMS Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2017/2018.

Michael, could you give us a brief description of the object that you chose for the session?

I brought with me two images from the archives of early cinema in the Middle East. The first of these images is a close-up from a Lumière Brothers film shot in 1897 at the Jaffa Gate, and the second is a shot of a man covering his face in front of the camera as he descends a staircase in Jerusalem also in 1897.

Why did you choose it and what did you anticipate while making the decision?

Both of these images are at the backbone of a chapter I am currently writing, and I wanted to seize the opportunity to think about them differently in the context of the sort of exercise that the session offered. I often get trapped in certain patterns of analysis, so being forced to frame, cut and play with these images on paper was a most welcomed invitation.

What did you do with the object during the session?

In the session, I was quite compelled by what Joseph Kaï discussed about comics regarding plotting, framing, and narration. I took cinematic techniques to heart, and I broke the images I had into separate strips—in other words, cutting the image into pieces and then reassembling it. I added circles where I hope to add different text, so I suppose, in the end, what I produced remains very much a work in progress.

How did you find the result, what surprised you?

My goal of cutting the image into parts was to allow myself to see the image differently so that it was not immediately apprehensible with the eye. On one sheet of paper, I printed the film still and then pasted it broken into parts; and on the other sheet of paper, I pasted the parts descending downward toward the second film still. I was surprised by how much this exercise inspired me to think differently about my work, these images and other ways of telling stories visually.

Is this connected to your work and research, and how?

I should confess that this work is quite explicitly connected to my work. I often teach courses in visual culture: on the one hand, a course on film, photography, and video, and on the other hand, a class on comics. I often have my students work out their weekly assignments in comics form or as videos, but I learned from Joseph new tactics and techniques for conducting this sort of work. I look forward to drawing from this experience when I return to teaching in the Fall.

 

 


Citation: Out of the Archives … New Archival Practices: “The session inspired me to think differently about my work”, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 10.08.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/11970


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