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Issue 137

Inventory: Feeled Recordings: An Embodied Exploration of Archival Ephemera
by Emma Sharpe

“You can lose yourself in folds of time such as these.”

response to Les Levine “1/2 VHS Video Series” mock up, designed by Robert Flack, 1986

In the digital age, our embodied experiences with media are becoming increasingly homogeneous. The lack of variety in touch and texture offered by smooth screens has rearranged and limited our sensory relationship to the media with which we interact. These rapid technological shifts have resulted in a push back: a renewed interest in full-spectrum sensations and in-person relations, prompting a resurgence in analogue processes and tangible, hands-on media. This looking back to look forward presents the physical archive as a particularly significant site for exploring just what gets lost in the shift towards digitization.

Using the archive as its focal point, “Feeled Recordings” explores these transitions – the gains and losses when material is translated from one medium to another and represented on different platforms. What gets lost when physical material is placed in an archive, organized into categories and flattened for digital representation? What happens when the material is no longer available to the body and the senses? What is captured for the record and what left out?

On December 18, 2017, 12 participants gathered for the “Feeled Recordings” workshop at Art Metropole. The workshop approached the questions above by reintroducing archival material to a contemporary setting, making it available for individuals to touch, feel, interact with and respond to. It focused on the archive as a site for disrupting linear approaches to time, muddling the boundaries between past and present, physical and digital, and incorporating a multiplicity of voices, bodies and feelings into the often singular narrative of an archive’s record. Working from pre-selected material from Art Metropole’s institutional archive, the group explored their embodied and affective experiences when interacting with ephemera. Mostly event flyers, mailers and catalogues spanning 1974–1999, the preserved material was examined for its form rather than its content and mined for new subjective triggers.

Individually, participants recorded reactions to their chosen material, limiting their perceptual observations to somatic and affective experience: how did their bodies behave in relation to the material? Did the smell of the paper remind them of anything? How did it dictate their movement? Did it feel familiar or strange? These observations were recorded, shared aloud and then distilled into keyword form using descriptors that capture the participants’ one-on-one interactions with the material. The keywords describe the type of data that isn’t typically captured in archival catalogues: the feel of the material against skin, the memories conjured, the smells, the sounds and the emotions stirred. The workshop’s results will be added to the archive’s digital storage system in a new category – “Feeling” – and will become searchable terms within Art Metropole’s online database.

By experiencing and augmenting the archive in these ways, “Feeled Recordings” approaches time not as linear or chronological, but instead as cyclical, circuitous and folding over itself. It treats the archive as a tool able to collapse the boundaries between past and present, bridging expansive temporal gaps. It speaks to the mutability of our recollections of history, and the inability of ever completing an archive. Moreover, the project attempts to reincorporate the messiness of human subjectivity – here associated with sensory and affective experience – into the physical archive and its digital platforms.

The workshop was also a chance to privilege experiences that are becoming increasingly rare in the digital age: contemplative moments of physical intimacy with archival material bred by the participation of the close senses – touch, smell and sound – through the feel of material, the smell of paper and the rustling of pages. It offered the chance to share these haptic interactions with others, activating the archive both personally and collectively. The project hints, too, at the impossibility of accurately recording time: how can one record something in constant motion? Feeled Recordings offers a chance to sink into the inherent failure of the imperative to preserve, playing within the space of what gets left off the record – the feelings, the messiness of subjectivity and the complexity of human interpretation.

Presented here is a selection of keywords generated during the workshop.

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