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The culture of the archive: processes of choice

Report by Sandra Fauconnier about the Open Territories project presentations at DEAF03.

The second series of project presentations in the Open Territories focused on the culture of the archive, from various  perspectives. Central to the three projects that were presented here - ETAWARE by Knowbotic Research, Tjebbe van Tijen's Imaginary Museums, Radiotopia - is the importance of the process of choice when objects move from the real world to the structured realm of the archive. As Boris Groys describes in his essay for Information is Alive: who carries the archive, and for how long?

ETAWARE, presented by Alexander Tuchacek from Knowbotic Research, is a technological archival project related to timebased material such as audio streams, used in a cultural process. The ETA (Enacting Timebased Archives) research project is carried out as a partnership of the HGKZ (Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst, Zürich, bringing in their competence with cultural and social software), KHM (Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln, who donated the entire audio archive of Vilém Flusser as streaming material for this project), V2_ (practical support) and Knowbotic Research; the project started in 2000 and might be finished around 2004. ETA combines the editorial process for streaming audio with groupware where small groups of cultural and social workers annotate the audio content in a collaborative way.

The ETA project offers a toolkit for the Windows platform, consists of different software modules and uses open standards, with normal scripting languages and RealSoftware for the streaming media (for lack of open streaming standards in 2000). Three interfaces are developed - a web-based interface (which still has to be designed), a reconstructive interface (the editor tool) and an intuitive interface (the so-called performance tool). The editing tool first functions in a private way - invited cultural workers can mark, select and annotate their own perspective on the audio material in project files, can join different selections from other editors and publish this output on the Net. The performance tool can work independently or together with this editing tool and visualizes the collaborative processes in an interesting way - this tool's interface is a circle with several concentric rings where colors represent different participants' viewpoints and the relations between them.

The interesting aspect about ETAWARE is its groupware - while many archives are constructed and annotated in a top-down manner, the ETA projects leaves the construction of archival relations to a selected group of expert users, who can use the archive itself as a platform for exchange about their expertise. Alexander Tuchacek emphasized that the ETA-tools are not specifically designed for the Flusser Archive, but that they can be implemented by other archival systems as well. The first set of tools is now available as a demo version and can be downloaded from the project's website.

The train of thoughts from Tjebbe van Tijen's oeuvre was in many ways quite contrasting to ETAWARE, because it showed a very individual and rather low-tech perspective on 'the art of archiving'. Tjebbe is an artist and archivist who has been working with computers since the 1970s and who developed a consistent oeuvre related to archiving and cultural processes, projects which could all be summarized under one name - the Imaginary Museum. Van Tijen has always been interested in the combination of various materials such as audio and video, and has, since the 1980s, developed a series of projects focusing on different interface solutions to juxtapositions of archival material. The content of these projects varied from the history of revolutions to picture learning books or neo-shamanism; he has always worked in a collaborative way, together with artists like Jeffrey Shaw and Rolf Pixley.

Through time, Tjebbe van Tijen felt a growing need to outline an overall logic in the way he went through these catalogs and discovered that he repeated the same actions every time he created a new system. In his "Ars Memoria System" he has made an attempt to define these basic principles - intuitively describing fixed elements in the construction of data systems, such as the definition of core elements, of relations, tables, fields, linkages, protocols and choices, and of ways of classification. He also defined different manners of grouping objects - via lists, hierarchies, trees, grids, timelines, trajectories, scapes / scopes and cosmograms - and of relating them to each other. In this context, he spoke about the "balkanization of data structures". Van Tijen ended his presentation with a few examples of projects that are based on these principles, such as a project on literary psychogeography (mapping with a fish-eye distortion), a recent museum piece about Papua culture and a panorama of pre-cinematic principles.

Radiotopia, the third project presented this morning, had a few concepts in common with ETAWARE: its collaborative aspect and the use of audio streams. Other than ETAWARE, Radiotopia offers simplicity and openness to all potential collaborators; an invitation is not necessary for participation. Radiotopia was commissioned by the Ars Electronica Festival in 2002 and enabled the creation of a sound network via acoustic media, with a rather utopian background; part of the commission centered on Africa and on discussions about a list of ideologies on, for example, sound and developing countries. The project is a black box where people can participate in the way they desire and which tries to attract a significant audience - often a rather problematic issue when dealing with small-scale streaming projects. The choice of audio formats is open for the participants; everyone can leave remarks behind about the audio material. There is no classification (since this would introduce too much hierarchy and subjectivity in the project) and only one search interface. A simple mixing interface was used during the Ars Electronica Festival and beyond, for broadcasting the audio via various radio stations. During the DEAF festival, Radiotopia has joined with KeyWorx (a collaborative multimedia application developed by Sher Doruff) in a collaborative performance.

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