Notes on the Archive
A BLOG POST FROM PHANTOM WING’S WRITER IN RESIDENCE
SEPTEMBER 23, 2013 – ANDREA WILLIAMSON
Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let Your enormous Library be justified. –J.L. Borges
For his contribution to Phantom Wing Steven Cottingham recontextualizes a sentiment found in a short story The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. The quotation in question, which Cottingham takes off the page and onto the walls of a classroom, expresses the protagonist’s desire for a utopia or heaven, whether or not he becomes a part of it. This is a selfless idealism, an altruistic desire that transcends the individual’s life and experience.
In a strange way this sentiment embodies the impetus behind all of the Phantom Wing projects in the King Edward space. The artists devote all of their resources and energy for an entire month to the project in order to realize their ideas, which in one way or another are all aspects of potential utopias. The selfless part- perhaps obvious but worth mentioning- is that these glimpses of utopias will be completely destroyed with nothing but experiences and documentation to remain. Physical labour in the present is sacrificed for future outcomes that may be immeasurable, unknown or phantom. How does this annihilation allow for a utopia to exist after the material form of art is gone? In other words, how are the imagined futures of the art works brought about beyond the work itself?
In his article “Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive” Boris Groys contends that the difference between art and politics is tangible: that politics aim to become obsolete through the full integration of its policies and maxims within contemporary life, while art remains present and distinct from life in the future. Indeed it is true that some artists aim for the atemporal reception of their art, outside of time and externally prescribed context, so that it belongs instead to an infinite realm (i.e. Borges’ infinite library.)
But this argument seems flawed in its totalizing conception of art as separate from life. Both politics and art at times aim to be fully realized futures, whether those future incarnations are materialized socially or exist as purely imaginative states. Politics and art can, at times, be indistinct through the lens of their future-orientedness. Still, there is a tendency for art to give off future “presents” that are far more removed from current circumstances than those imagined by politics.
To the extent that the Phantom Wing artists propose (latent or overt) social messages through their works, they hope for the obsolescence of these messages as a thing independent from life. A correlative to this hope of everyday integration is that the artists are complicit with the dissolution of their physical creations so long as the ideas put forth remain. But again, due to art’s tendency to present much farther-reaching futures than those of politics, the archive (as time capsule) is key to the implementation of art’s future goals. Here we are taking Groys’ intended purpose for the archive (to maintain art’s distance from life into the future) in a different direction altogether. So let me attempt here to archive some of the future-minded aspirations of the Phantom Wing projects- lest unlike the current politics involved in the King Edward School’s future, they not be materialized for some time.
It’s important that we not only consider the final result or public presentation of these art projects, but also the processes of production and work behind them. What do the ways in which the artists work together and form relationships offer as future aspirations? Artist Lane Shordee who’s been working as Phantom Wing’s unofficial resident handyman, and on building a waterfall along with Ivan Ostapenko, Alia Shahab and youth from the Antyx group, wants to see the collaborative community spirit of the Wing artists moving forward. Their model of skill sharing, resource recycling, and co-operation embodies in the here-and-now ways in which permacultures and sustainable ecologies are viable for the future.
Guy Gardner and Sian Ramsden’s second floor hallway piece of lockers doors gracefully fanning out into space exemplifies how our architecture can elicit our bodily sense of extending into space. As sensing creatures, our spaces shape our minds as much as our minds construct our spaces. Projects such as Gardner and Ramsden’s, that enliven our bodies and experiences of moving through space, remind us that we are in fact embodied creatures, and that consciousness of our physicality matters: to our health and to our consideration and conservation of nature of which we are incontestably a part.
Projects such as Joanne MacDonald’s merry-go-round and the courtyard waterways by Shordee, Ostapenko, Shahab et al. profess the importance of play and spontaneity, as do many other works in Phantom Wing. Play allows us to reevaluate our processes of getting things done, to react to problems efficiently and intuitively, which can end up saving a lot of time and resources. It is creative problem solving. Play is also inspiring in its ability to diversify outcomes and stray from the straight and narrow path, as the Antyx participants’ waterway designs redirect the water, which ends up forming new flows, currents and patterns.
Craft experts Suzen Green and Yvonne Mullock through their project “Politergeist” imbue their space with a sense of attending to detail, of a slow and laborious process and of fine handiwork that together propose care, respect and appreciation for objects in our environment. In the way that Gardner and Ramsden’s imaginative architecture mirrors our physical presence, hand crafted furniture and design creates a welcoming and absorbing space for our bodies. The spirit of the school that they seem to draw from in the making of their ghost form, is that of past students who enjoyed doing great work: practicing their cursive handwriting until it curved just so, or considering a social studies essay beyond the demands of the assignment. The pristine aesthetic of their “haute-couture” fabric structure alludes to a moral higher ground wherein good habits become good values.
Lowell Smith and Sarah Storteboom’s revived PA system (Public Address system) works with existing circuits of the school’s old Internet cables to once again exercise order, authority and transparency within the school as a coherent system. Their project speaks back to the well-heard belief that artists are blasphemous, dystopic and rebellious. To be sure some are, but Storteboom and Smith are here in favour of clear communication and structure, which can effectively guide crowd behaviours in a way that benefits all for the coming open house.
Inclusive communities and the acceptance of difference are sadly not experiences we all remember from high school. The “Girl Gang Dance Party” project in the second floor girls’ bathroom by Melinda Topilko, Lindsay Joy and Peter Britton recuperates this contentious and pretentious space in order to encourage all manner of personal expression. The stalls are re-fitted and decorated to allow for different stages or iterations of emotion; legitimizing experiences such as crying, navel gazing, and dancing by designating private spaces for them to happen, and acknowledging that we all go through them in our own ways.
These sketches of archives for artist-ushered futures are unavoidably incomplete. They are meant to be exemplary and preliminary so that all of us recognize the values, spaces and feelings put forth in the artists’ work as potentials for future ecologies, economies and social structures, if not for present ones. Recognizing the importance of the archive, I urge you all to write about your experiences of the projects, take photographs for lasting impressions, communicate what you felt to others, and maybe even integrate some of the artists processes into your own lives.
 See Boris Groys, Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/art-workers-between-utopia-and-the-archive/ accessed on September 22, 2013.
Photos by Caitlind r.c. Brown