Letter from the Editor: Archive + Now = News?
You’re reading the first issue of The Current Express, an online project created for the MOP Foundation’s CURATE ARCHIVE initiative. As “Editor” of the second residency of 2015, I’m writing this “Letter” both to offer some background on the upcoming project, as well as to introduce theme of the first issue: From the Archives.
While the project on the MOP CAP website may easily read out as a regular newsletter type, it also tries to double as a first edition of eight consecutive parts in an online exhibition that studies and mirrors the format, methodology and production of news by inventing The Express as temporary digital platform, focusing on the exploration of MOP CAP’s archive of contemporary Iranian art practices. Thus, the exhibition will come out in bi-weekly thematically varying issues during May and August 2015, featuring archival material processed by the ideals of editorial content and op-eds, navigating between today’s click-bait headlines and the politically charged tensions. Scroll down to find out more!
The New New
News, in the traditional sense, can be defined as ‘information on current events’. And truthfully, in some ways the centuries old existence of the newspaper as an editorial platform has several similarities to the era of digital curating of content. As news are put together by teams of various agendas, the outcome mostly serves short a moment in time to satisfy a hunger for immediacy, which today is greatly enhanced by the instant spread of information. Similarly, instead of the usual retrospective format, thinking about an exhibition as news moves alsto the perspective of an archive into the moment of now, focusing on the reactiveness of the moment. The concept follows the new type of immediacy of cultural contemporaneity of the digital era that has already greatly affected the status of classic news outlets as trusted institutions and allowed new ventures to emerge. While the authority of the established news has eroded, new forms of contemporary voices have developed in the shape of social media, blogs and online publications. On the other hand, the risks of this development have also become visible, as news are aggregated to automated feeds and web portals without true editorial processes, making it ever-harder to see beyond the stories. Thus, The Current Express — replacing the editorial with the curatorial — is an experimental operation, hopefully hovering above the pitfalls of the saturated field of emerging cultural platforms.
For Iran – news is definitely a defining and a highly charged word. Like many other countries in the Middle East, Iran has a particular representation in the global news, whereas the other side of “life”, for instance, can most easily be found with a hashtag (maybe just try #TehranLife) — or as contemporary cultural products. But where did it all begin? The first ever newspaper in Iran, the Kaghaz-e Akhbar (simply meaning ‘news-paper’) was a published by journalist Mirza Saleh Shirazi, who as a student in 1815 was sent to Britain to learn about publishing, printing techniques and media. Returning to Iran, he arrived with printing machinery and materials and his first confirmed lithograph paper was printed in 1846 (some claim 1837) — well after the time when other newspapers were launched in the surrounding regions. Devoid of “editorial” content, the goverment-oriented bulletin was published for approximately three years. Very few issues have survived, thus in this aspect, scarcely contributing to the generic archive on Iranian contemporary culture. In the Iranian context, until this day the idea of “newspaper” remains a contested item and this is also why a Farsi title was created for the project. While there certainly is much more symbolism in being the first, The Current Express will be loaning liberally from the history of Iranian news and adopting the title of the second newspaper Vaghaye Ettefaghiyeh (‘the happening events‘) — a reformist newspaper running for 20 years from 1851, created by the order of chief minister Amir Kabir, despite his subsequent murder the following year. Hence, The Current Express — The Happening Events وقایع اتفاقیه.
Why the Archive?
You could ask why the sudden interest towards archives? One could start answering by trying to think what generates archives these days. For the archive of today has become a stealthy manoeuvre. It seems almost whenever things or information gets displayed in this thoroughly digitalizing age, various interrelated datasets tend to accumulate almost automatically, creating multiple archival dimensions. Old and new, the established and the other are turning visible for new approaches, geographies and audiences. In this fluctuating context, viewing the archive as method, as it is often suggested, has become both an urgent and a mundane topic. In comparison, Allan Sekula has discussed the shadow archive, an “all-encompassing” and wholly inclusive view of what gets archived, regardless of the aims of the purported, presented archive. Are we entering a continuation to the paradigm in the digital world, where perhaps both the archives and their “shadows” are indexed by search algorithms but popularity will decide on their ranking?
For both new and old arrivals in the archival or institutional efforts, arrangements of contemporaneity and dealing with the current represent major challenges. Yet, there within lie also opportunities in overriding past canons and hard-to-challenge establishments. So what exactly could contemporary archival explorations become a method of? What kind of new exhibitions and practices could emerge from such undertakings, and how could they benefit stories from the edges and outside the Western cultural and institutional scenery?
Historically, it could be said that archives exist as tools in backing up understandings or claims of cultural trajectories. However, at the same time, archival manoeuvres do not produce objective historiographies, because as we well know, the written world history is often not truly global. But instead of getting trapped in a recital of past misrepresentations — or simply worrying about the present moment for not being ‘multicentered’ enough — the archive as a newly invigorated method could be worked into a tool for overcoming the subtitles. What is interesting and current, is interesting and current everywhere. (This is also a reference to the name of the project, trying to outpace the age-old Orient Express.) Thus, for the sake of experimentation, why not focus on the immediate moment, the very contemporary?
Acknowledging the curatorial opportunity in the process opens up ways in dealing with the vastness and fluidity of modernities. Of “everything solid melting into air.” Instead of traditional attempts in securing authority or validity through institutions or professional practices, in today’s world, the representation of an archive itself can become the editorial platform, an interface for seeing and reading the current, a continuous construction site for the ever-elusive altermodern.
What to Expect
For the seven upcoming issues I will assume my self-inflicted editorial role as someone not intimately familiar with the history of contemporary Iranian art. I will both try to utilize the outsider’s point of view to my advantage, as well as for learning things new to me. But in the framework of this project, am also interested in the notion of exposure to knowledge. Almost daily we encounter and skim through massive amount of details and information that we can’t really claim any deep expertise over. Yet, we spend a sizable amount of our time with immediate, first hand information, streams of images, articles and pieces. In some ways, we are becoming used to immersing ourselves in archives, cherry picking data, collecting snippets, saving clips, remembering random trivia from here and there. New ways are being invented to make items sound interesting, fresh, worthy of our attention. The contemporary representation is not neutral. How about the archive?
How to acknowledge the risks of navigating in the momentary stream of things? How to be knowledgeable enough to operate between the references to current political developments, the overall media space, the online space, the archive space or even the public sphere? Perhaps the answer is similar than to editing anything really — you can only project from the point of view you choose and develop. Thus, for the The Current Express, the curatorial viewpoint is about viewing whatever cultural production gathered by the MOP CAP archive, as evidence of contemporaneity — of reflections about living in the same world in some sense. Whatever is alien, or uncharted territory, may and perhaps should still speak as if to tell beyond words whatever we as “peers” can observe in the (still very unequally) globalized world. And maybe for myself in this project, this is the only framework where I can fully operate.
At the end, what will be of interest to me is to seek answers to the meaning of this particular set of projects and their descriptions, contained by the archive. Does the archive become an extension of the private practice, or the hidden space of an Iranian artist, a stepping stone or attachment into some kind of independent platform, or merely a record of an attempt to enter a competition? What hidden or domestic modernities are contained by it, not previously harvested for display. Or, in the bigger picture, what is shared in the globalization and distribution of the this particular archive? What is owned and produced by one culture, so that its appropriation in another can become an issue? Or, simply, what does the contemporary viewer — or consumer of the curated archive — find of interest, relatable, thoughtful, enticing?
I hope the project generates questions, dialogue, critique and reactions. Like any news.
The Express Interviews
With each issue, The Current Express reaches out to artists, curators, writers, thinkers and other individuals with questions in line of the theme of the issue. From candid questions to reflections, the aims is to discover thoughts and insights beyond the visible archive.
Ali Bakthiari is a Tehran-based curator, researcher and collector. His initiatives include the independent “ABBookness“ project which focuses on the production of art books, as well as “IRAN:RPM”, an ongoing project focused on Iranian vinyl record discography.
1. Do you collect things?
I was born a collector. During my childhood and school years, I had the most peculiar collections of rubbers, pens and pencils that I was not using. And of course my collection of the books; books, ephemeral and magazines are what I now actually call archives. I focused on collecting them professionally since 2000. The theme of this collection is cultural production in Iran 1940’s to 1980’s. (They actually include two very fascinating collections of Persian vinyls and Farsi movie posters are almost unique in quality and quantity). My art collection was also started on 2005 and it now holds more than 100 Modern Iranian pieces.
2. Do you think “the archive” is changing?
Archives are always Archives, but the way of presentation is changing.
3. What in your practice, activities or life generates and accumulates archives?
As a researcher on modern culture of Iran, my everyday life is tangled with archives.
Nader Koochaki is an Iranian-Spanish artist based in Beasain, located in Northern Spain in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. From his academic background in sociology, he has moved towards developing a specific artistic practice, often tackling issues related to locality, identity, and the accumulation of their representations in modernity.
1. Do you collect things?
2. Are artists archiving, discovering archives or being archived?
I think that your question has already the answer. If I accept the assertion that nowadays many artists are working with the notion of archive as one of their main tools I could answer affirmatively to all three questions. And it could be added that not only artists but also that it is a widespread and massive process related to a contemporary restlessness that we all suffer. We live anxiously and so are our works. Something has exploded. It seems that due to this ‘pop’ lots of pieces and fragments are now orbiting in a way that anyone can get hold of and use them. According to this process the notion of user has been expanded too and we feel the need to act. But it appears not as a politically engaged action, rather a hysterical, neurotic, exceeded action without object. All of a sudden a tool has appeared in our hand and now we are impelled to act. Not too long ago a friend send me a slogan that I liked a lot. It was something like: “you are not an artist, you are not a philosopher, you are not a critic, you are not a poet, you only have access to the Internet”. If that tool were a weapon, would we shoot?
May be the question has nothing to do with the notion of archive but with decision-making. The archive can become a solution for cowards. We all know stocking up rubbish. The notion of archive by its own is not enough and it’s not enjoyable. It should work as a theoretical tool, as a thinking structure, as a method. It needs the explosion of an event, the becoming of something that opens it or a kind of detonation to produce a fissure. Patience is crucial and so is to have the viewfinder prepared. At some point the prey will cross your view angle and you have to be prepared for that. Meanwhile, to archive is not a bad labour. Let’s think about archiving as a maintenance exercise; as a kind of movement through the view that enables to extend ourselves without changing our position. Let’s play to be tripods, let’s use our (tripod) head.
3. What in your practice, activities or life generates and accumulates archives?
I can’t speak with confidence about what I do. I only make some decisions and I try to carry them out to the end. I know that articles and books are published, conferences are organized and that deep debates are carried out around these topics, but to say the truth, I don’t follow them. Thus, it scares me a little to answer. You know, nowadays it seems that you have to be continuously updated. I update my vegetable garden. Isn’t it an archive? To seed, to grow, to harvest or to pickle is not to archive? And the cemeteries, aren’t they archives? Of course, life itself produces archives. We are the only animals that generate rubbish. That may be the largest archive that we are producing nowadays.
Regarding the archiving practice of life, no doubt that the activities of life produce and accumulate archives. In that sense, reading about the birth of geology is fascinating. In that archive, the fissure was opened up when someone couldn’t make sense of the idea that the mountains were the creation of God and that nothing had changed from the ‘creational’ moment. Somehow, it happened as a blow in the proper place that generating a full sequence of waves gave shape to the coast of geology as discipline. Suddenly the emerging geologists reached the mountains vibrating together, excited to read the book of the earth. The strata and the sediments of the earth, the rocks, were layers of time and indicators of periods and cycles. In other words and displacing the event, this accident may really result from the mountains, from the collision between the earth plates. This tectonic uplift was what showed an archive that until then had been orderly, calm and slowly accumulating over millions of years. Geology emerged from that fissures, alpinism was conceived there too. Geologists were the first alpinists. Look at what alpinists are now. I think that their profile is the same to those artists you are referring to. It is the ostentation of the medium and the technique. Who can assure that we will be able to continue accessing to those digital archives that we are generating today? The obsolescence and the economy can betray us at any time.
Tehran-born Nima Esmailpour is currently conducting his PhD research project in art history at the Concordia University in Montreal.
1. Your work from the MOP CAP 2013 is presented in this issue. How do you view the work from where you are now? In reference to the archive?
I consider the newspaper, as a conventional archival material, and my artwork as a “statement-thing”, to borrow an apt term from Foucault. Newspapers testify the historical events, make links between them; and more importantly legitimize the ‘current’ flow of events, and/or delegitimize what has been known as a ‘unique’ event. In the same way, Foucault defines the archive as an active regulatory system, that governs the appearance of statements as unique events.
There was a historical urgency, in the aftermath of the 2009 election disputes, that placed this set of works in a frame. A set of new relations between the 1979 Revolution and the 2009 events has surged, in which the historical subject could only reflect upon by turning her face towards the past. Looking at the past through the archive mandates unexpected modes of appearance and disappearance of statements, as if one is looking at the texts in the newspaper behind a tilted glass.
Telegraphy is defined as the long-distance transmission of textual or symbolic messages. Today, in the electronic era of instant news bulletins and email, most national postal services and telecommunications companies have shut down the telegraph services as outdated. (However, TIC, Telecommunication Infrastructure Company of I.R.Iran still offers Telex services) In line with the tradition of gathering a dispatch of messages and signals, each issue of the The Current Express will feature Instant Telegraphy, a collection of items found in the instantaneous contemporary world, loosely or even randomly related to the theme of the issue.
“Boutique owners dressing a female mannequin for the new spring collection. Yazd, Iran.” Photo by Ali Golshan for Everyday Iran (@everydayiran) on Instagram.
What it Was Like to Travel to Iran With Andy Warhol in 1976? – Video interview of Bob Colacello by Dan Washburn. Published in Asia Society’s Asia Blog, 22 October, 2013.
A runway photo gallery of the all male Tehran Fashion Week.
NAAM is a student-run quarterly of Architecture and Design based in University of Tehran, Iran.
Parvis Tanavoli retrospective in the Davis Museum, until 7 June 2015.
Twitter hashtag searches for #IranTalks.
From the Archives
The first issue of The Current Express focuses on the project’s central theme — the archive. In the old days, newspapers were printed out with great rush every night and distributed in the mornings. Old news became fish wrappings the next day, while only few copies were saved in the archives. Today, we realize archives of news are less about physical storage rooms, but more about storing data. In many ways, the MOP CAP’s Artist Directory featuring digital submission by emerging Iranian artists, exemplifies the contemporary, suddenly ‘occurring’ archive. It is a collection that we may find online, a collection that is accumulated through a process that originally wasn’t meant to produce archives, as such. Today, much more things are turning into archives than what is taken from them for consideration. Yet, the expansion of the archive has meant that whatever gets stored is also, more than ever before, available for reinterpretations, republishing, reformatting.
But undoubtedly for many artists, there definitely exists a complex relationship between the generic and canonized history and attempts to counter the authority of the archive in the current moment. Artistic observations and processes stand often out as the contradicting artifacts in the collection. Still, it is exactly through cultural production and critical practices that evidence and work is accumulated that later may join the historical canon. What may have changed during the past decade or so, is the speed of which new collections, and subsequently canons, are being created. Regardless, artistic practices themselves are some of the most reactive and instant tools in recording the changes and occurrences around us that might not otherwise be remembered or rediscovered.
From the Archives looks at the ways the archive is both made and used in contemporary practices. From personal memories to contextualizing memories and from reinterpreting historical traces (or simply pointing out their existence) to creating snapshots or alternative versions of contemporary histories, the issue showcases items selected from the MOP CAP archive that utilize or comment the various ways of collecting, recording and remembering. Whether in the form of interviews, words, text, historical or instant photography, physical objects or the physical or conceptual acts and materials of archiving, the following works go beyond their existence as objects, or art works, existing simultaneously in multiple archival constellations.
The issue features work from Mona Aghababaee, Farshid Azarang, Nima Esmailpour, Azin Feizabadi, Nader Koochaki, Babak Kazemi, Foad Rahnama, Parham Taghioff and Jinoos Taghizadeh.
Next Issue: Opinion Pieces – 15 May
The next issue Opinion Pieces of The Current Express is coming out on 15 May 2015.