Degenerate archives


Archival degenerator

This is the degenerative decategorizer, an archival degenerator, also known as the degenerate's catalogue. It is an experiment in surrealist archival science. The degenerate's catalogue presents an engaged randomization of the entire archive of photographs from the Endangered Archives Project collection originating in the Krasnoiarsk Krai Regional History Museum. The point of the degenerate's catalogue is to bring multiple images together, to allow them to rub up against one another, to produce unexpected encounters and to engineer serendipity. What will become of this? Who knows? The point of this exercise is that the categories of the archive are arbitrary, just as the categories I generate are arbitrary. But the poetry of degenerated archival orders suggests different readings and possibilities. The degenerate's catalogue throws together two random images each time you activate the engine.

Like anything corrupt, the degenerate's catalogue upsets rules and codes. It undermines the fictions of closure and comprehensibility. It refuses the archive and its logics of order and practice. It agitates history and power and draws attention to the implicit and unspoken rules governing access and expression. The juxtapositions created in the degenerate's catalogue are ephemeral and in some ways dilettantish. They are not easily instrumentalized and are best seen as a tool to generate novel associations. As Ted Bishop writes in Riding with Rilke, the heart of archival work is "the discovery of surprising connections between disparate artefacts" (2005: 167). Most of the surprising connections I've made while playing with the degenerate's catalogue are actually disconnections and incredulities: "Where are the signs of trauma after the brutal small pox epidemic?" and "What does this pile of reindeer carcasses have to do with Bolshevik party politics?" or even more mundane observations:

"What kind of tea are they brewing?"
"Did that man ever travel to Moscow?"
"What a beautiful coat!"
"They look cold."
"I'm hungry for fish."