Curatorial Introduction

On a material and structural basis, archives work to constantly reconstruct a shared reality in and across different temporalities. Therefore, archives create not only knowledge about the past and future but also historic and future knowledge itself in its social, political and cultural contexts. The entanglement of archives with hegemonic tools and methods of knowledge production and their role in the conception and production of history is based on an authoritative process. The congress and the exhibition The Whole Life. Archives & Imaginaries reflect on alternative archival practices that take up archives not as closed entities of authoritative truth, but as spaces of collective counter-research into modes of being, thinking and producing knowledge. How does this change the meaning of archives? And what are the social and cultural implications?

The exhibition and the congress are brought together along three core topics: the question of the sociality of the archive, the intersections of digital culture and strategies of decolonization, and the role of archives as sites of future knowledge and reality production. Rather than marking three separate sections, these topics form the fundamental points of departure that encounter various resonances among the individual contributions, formats and discussions.

To think through the sociality of archives is to focus on the outside of archival institutions – their social environment and their cultural and political ecosystems. The aim is to analyze the influence of archives within social contexts and, at the same time, to ask how social reality and dominant ways of thinking, learning and living are represented in the archive, how they are documented and perpetuated. Against this background, the archive is considered a social space of reflection, which must be analyzed in two forms: as a site that extends existing historicized hegemonic narratives and as a site of historical and potential opposition and resistance. How does archiving exclude social realities and how can the archive become a social space? How does the archive document transformation and how is it marked as such?

Within the ongoing process of digitizing archives, their contents become a fundamental element of the complexities of digital culture. The violent history of colonialism is deeply entwined with archival holdings and attitudes. Mass digitization does not mean that this connection is suddenly dissolved. History remains both material knowledge and immaterial affect. How can we connect the current process of digitization in museums and archives with reflections on the reproduction of knowledge and meanings in the context of archival institutions? How can the risk of unchallenged perpetuation of historical and contemporary oppression in the digital space be countered?

Against the backdrop of centuries of history told by and through archives, archived societies no longer reckon with radical possibilities of the time to come – not even in moments of fundamental transformation. But given the social, economic and political violence that continues to shape the world, it becomes clear that the narratives of the past must be rethought and that the archive as such is a site of future knowledge production. The archive is a space in which to practice speculative future-making, not by decoupling it from the past but by reinscribing its material into existing narrative mechanisms and circulations. This implies a direct engagement with the relations of past, present and future to illuminate the historical and contemporary conditions of possibility. What are these counterstrategies that navigate between archival activation and archival activism to create alternative images of future?

Eight artistic research installations throughout HKW interrogate concrete archives using their own strategies and methods. These works, created for The Whole Life. Archives & Imaginaries, form points of departure for opening perspectives on the holdings and contexts of archives and show what new forms of encounter are possible in concrete case studies.

Three Desktop Compilations present insights into ongoing research processes in the context of the nomadic curriculum – an experimental approach developed and applied over recent years in multiple archival contexts by participants in the Whole Life Academy. These compilations offer gathering sites during the exhibition where the material is activated in further rehearsals of the curriculum.

Various discursive arrangements shape a collaboratively developed congress program: The format of the Microstory challenges the master narratives that are deeply connected to archival processes of canonization. Eight chapters of performative, sonic, dialogical and disruptive contributions and interventions shape the program in the Auditorium and engage with the three core topics from various perspectives. The Tiny Desk Sessions are collective and object-based investigations: contributors and audience gather around a table that is both an infrastructure for the social encounter with archival material and a research display. The Phantom Cinema in the lobby is an experiment in revisiting undocumented histories. Starting from an exhibition in the early 1990s and the reunion of its protagonists, an extensive filmic and discursive program engages with the politics of collective and institutional archival practices.

Parallel to the program of events, the project presents various publications and the Whole Life Repository, an online platform that makes research material accessible in a dynamic mapping structure.