Conversations with Unusal Suspects is a seminar series by the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography (CIE) & the Institute for Performance Studies (IPS/SFU). Trudi Lynn Smith and Kate Hennessy will be in conversation with Sabine Bitter about their new project, Fugitives: Anarchival Materiality in Archives.
In analog and digital archives, issues of material loss are met with tools of resistance, ranging from simple freezers, to fire-resistant bunkers, to complex robotic systems. While entropy is usually resisted by archivists, this paper draws attention to what we call anarchival materiality, or the generative force of entropy in archives. We theorize anarchival materiality through our oral history research with archivists and curators and parallel video and photography work in the British Columbia Provincial Archives. We describe how non-human archives and their human stewards both constrain and enable preservation. Classification systems, spatial organization and human responsibilities are all fundamentally reshaped and determined by the uncooperative residents of archives, who constantly remind their caretakers of the transformative and organic passage of time.
We focus our discussion on the force of molecular transformation, chemical reactions, rot, and other proximal interactions as they render archival materials as fugitives––eluding preservation, and as anarchival––marked for destruction. We explore the material agency of more than human archives to inquire how anarchival properties of archives reveal “sensuous enchantment” (Bennett 2010) between humans and their worlds. Anarchival materiality has a shape and smell: It is a stack of orphan wallets, the smell of ‘vinegar syndrome’ marking molecular transformation and loss of archival stability, or the gooey pull of attachment. Archives are not outside of us, not of the past or for the future; rather, they run alongside and in relationship with human beings. How might fugitives within archival structures, and the chemical reactions that create them, reveal potentials in entropy?